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IOSH poll confirms stress as common work issue with more support needed

Date posted
30 October 2023
Jeremy Waterfield
Estimated reading time
3 minute read

Those who don’t feel stressed because of their job are in a small minority, while most who do feel stressed would stop short of raising the issue at work.

That was the finding of a snap social media poll, run by IOSH for this year’s International Stress Awareness Week (30 Oct–03 November), that showed 84 per cent of those who responded said their work had made them feel stressed in the past 12 months.

And responding to a follow-up question that asked, “If you feel stressed, would you feel comfortable discussing it at work?”, more than half (54%) said “No”.

The poll, which was live for three days, saw 1,870 people respond to the first question, “Has your work made you feel stressed in the past 12 months?”, while 1,306 responses were received to the follow-up question.

Finding balance and support

One respondent wrote: “Everyone will have felt stressed at some point. A certain amount of stress is healthy and makes people work better… as long as it’s a healthy level of stress.”

Another suggested: “I think a bit of stress at work is good. The issues arise when you can’t shut down after you finish for the day, that's when it becomes problematic. I have learned to switch off as soon as I ‘switch off’. To me, it’s finding that very fine balance.”

The need for ‘balance’ was echoed elsewhere: “Good stress prompts me into action. I also take time to exercise, socialise and relax. Life is all about balance.”

Disappointingly, the majority of respondents said they wouldn’t feel comfortable talking about their high stress levels at work.

After making critical references to employers’ ‘wellbeing washing’, one response suggested: “Not all managers feel comfortable helping a stressed employee and can become defensive about it, or will try to ignore it, despite the employer having a duty of care.”

Others said it was down to trust, while one replied they would only open up about their stress, “if the employer respects what and how much I wish to disclose and doesn’t pressure me to disclose stuff if I’m not comfortable with that.”

One response was: “If I say I’m stressed I just get ignored and given more work.”

Mental health impact

A certain amount of pressure is healthy and can improve performance and motivation. However, when that pressure exceeds the individual’s ability to cope and turns into stress it starts to have a negative impact on their mental health. Prolonged exposure to work stressors can leave workers vulnerable to negative effects on health and wellbeing, causing illnesses ranging from headaches and gastrointestinal disorders through to depression and anxiety disorders, heart attacks and diabetes.

The symptoms of work-related stress not only affect individual workers but can also negatively affect an organisation, resulting in an increase in:

  • absenteeism
  • presenteeism
  • higher accident and injury rates
  • higher rates of early retirement
  • reduced productivity
  • reduced engagement.

The cost of this can run into billions for businesses and society globally.

Work-related stress can be preventable by taking appropriate action. Our one-day ‘Stress management’ workshop explores stress and covers a range of strategies that can be used every day to help manage the issue.

If you’re a journalist looking to set up an interview, get a quote, or with another enquiry, call our media team on +44 (0)116 257 3118.

Last updated: 31 January 2024

Jeremy Waterfield

Job role
Content Officer


  • Health and wellbeing
  • People and workforce