We’re urging employers to protect their ‘ticking time bomb’ workforce as a new report reveals that one in five working adults took time off work in the past year due to poor mental health caused by pressure or stress.

UK at risk 

Mental Health UK’s ‘Burnout Report’ also found that over a third of adults experienced high or extreme levels of pressure and stress always or often in the past year (35%) – highlighting that the UK is at risk of becoming a ‘burnt-out nation'.

Poor mental health at work

“The findings of this report come as no surprise as we know that there’s a host of issues from the cost-of-living crisis and global social issues, to worries around artificial intelligence and climate change, that are fueling poor mental health at work,” said our Workforce Lead, Kris Ambler.

“From factories to retail, the most important asset a business has are its people. So why do many employees who are under pressure and at risk of burnout frequently go undetected and unsupported? A depleted workforce also means that people remaining are working twice as hard to be productive, which creates a perfect storm for burnout.

Workplace counselling 

“We know that workplace counselling can make a significant contribution to both supporting people in work and helping those coming back to work due to mental health issues. But the government is really behind the curve with this as we’ve made repeated calls for them to invest in workplace mental health – particularly for small to medium sized businesses who don’t have the financial support to access workplace counselling for their employees due to rising costs and fewer people spending.”

Complex causes

Though the causes of people taking time off work due to poor mental health are complex, Mental Health UK’s polling reveals that poor working relationships and processes could be pushing people into burnout, with more than one-third of working adults (35%) saying they do not feel comfortable letting their line managers or senior leaders know if they are experiencing high or extreme levels of pressure and stress at work.

The report also showed that nearly one in three (31%) said being bullied or intimidated by other colleagues had caused stress in the last year. The survey suggests workplaces could be ill-prepared to support staff experiencing high levels of stress, with nearly half of workers (49%) saying their employer doesn't have a plan to spot signs of chronic stress and prevent burnout, while a further 22% don't know if their employer has such a plan in place.

Burnt-out nation 

Chief Executive of Mental Health UK, Brian Dow, believes that the UK is rapidly becoming a burnt-out nation as “a worrying number of people” are taking time off work due to poor mental health caused by stress:

“High levels of work absence due to poor mental health is a major challenge, but its causes are complex. What is clear is that we urgently need government to lead a national conversation about how we can best help people to stay in or return to work, given the positive impact that secure employment has on mental health. Part of this will involve looking at how employers can better spot and manage stress before it becomes burnout."

Further information

Read Mental Health UK’s new Burnout Report here. The report was created through the polling of more than 2,000 UK adults by YouGov.

Kris Ambler will be talking about the impact of worldwide social determinants of mental health and how to support your workforce at the ‘Health and Wellbeing at Work Conference, 2024’ conference in March.

A helpful guide for employers on burnout can be found here.