Stress misconceptions abound in UK workforces

Almost half of UK employees whose colleagues have taken time off work due to stress think it’s not real. 

According to new research released today, 45 per cent of employees who have never experienced a mental health issue do not understand stress to be ‘real’ and think it can be used as an excuse for people to have time off work. 

The findings, from the ‘Mental Resilience’ survey conducted by health insurer Westfield Health, have been released to mark Stress Awareness Month. 

Commenting on the results of the survey of nearly 2,000 working adults across the country, Westfield Health’s Executive Director, Dave Capper, said: “A lack of understanding and common misconceptions around stress prevent it from being recognised as a real issue in the workplace and addressed effectively. 

“Stress can arise as a result of situations or events that put pressure on us, or our reaction to being placed under pressure. It can lead to mental health problems, or be a result of them.  

“Stress Awareness Month is an important opportunity to tackle misunderstanding around the issue and raise awareness of the causes and cures, particularly in the workplace. 

“Furthermore, 56 per cent of people feel that the term ‘mental health’ is too broad and its meaning is unclear. The term is perceived as covering up a multitude of issues, and it’s not always believed to be genuine.  

“Workplaces need to find a new language when talking about both mental health and stress. For half of employees surveyed, the term ‘emotional fitness’ resonated more and was viewed less negatively.  

“Changing how we talk about mental health and stress could help pave the way to getting people talking about these issues more openly. 

“Once there is more understanding and openness, employers will be better placed to address these issues in the appropriate way.” 

Kevin Friery, EAP Clinical Lead at Rehab Works Ltd, said: “This research highlights important aspects of the relationship between stress, the workplace and emotional fitness.  In order to address these, to develop a new language, employers and employees need to work together to develop trust. 

“An organisational culture that supports and encourages people to feel safe when talking about emotional fitness – especially when it is depleted – will also be a workplace where employees feel valued and engaged, where managers feel trusted and valuable and where the organisation  experiences good levels of engagement, performance and productivity. Getting it right means getting it right for everybody.” 

According to the NHS, stress affects how you feel, think and behave and how your body works.  

To support Stress Awareness Month, Westfield Health is encouraging employers to talk to staff about their perceptions and understanding of the term ‘stress’.   

For more information on stress, anxiety and depression, visit NHS Choices at

Westfield Health’s Executive Director Dave Capper
Westfield Health’s executive director Dave Capper

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