Secret Stress - 8 million UK workers suffer in silence

Article date: 2 November 2016

Research from Aviva found:

  • 25% of people said they had taken a day off work with stress but blamed it on a physical illness
  • A third of people have taken a day off because of stress at some stage of their career
  • Money is the most common cause of stress, followed by relationships
  • Plymouth has the highest proportion of people who have taken time off work with stress, while Norwich has the lowest (see end of release for the full table)

New research from Aviva1, released to coincide with National Stress Awareness Day2 (2nd Nov) has revealed the startling number of people in the UK who are suffering from stress but are hiding it from their employers.

A quarter of people (25%) surveyed admitted taking a day off work with stress but then blamed it on a physical illness. Based on the current number of people working in the UK, it indicates that almost eight million people are suffering in silence3.

Aviva’s research also found that a third of people (33%) have taken a day off work with stress at some stage in their career. 25-34 year olds were the most likely to have taken time off (46%) with those aged over 55 seemingly the least likely to need time away from work (25%).

More than half of men (53%) who had taken a day off work with stress at some stage in their career said they had done so in the last year, compared to just a third of women (34%).

Those who have needed time away from work with stress in the last year took an average of six days off, but stress can clearly impact people in different ways and for different lengths of time. When asked ‘how many days have you taken off work with stress in the last year?’ the most common response was 1-2 days (31%), but 6% of people who needed time away from work within the last year said they had taken 11 or more. 

More than a quarter of people cited money as their main cause of stress (27%), followed by relationships (15%), health (13%) and work (13%). However, one in five people (20%) said that they have no causes of stress in their life at all.

The research provided more positive evidence that the stigma around stress and other mental health problems in the workplace is being reduced. A third of people (33%) said they would now feel more comfortable talking about it than they would have done five years ago, compared to just  1 in 8 (12%) who said they would feel less comfortable.

Steve Bridger, Managing Director of Group Protection at Aviva, said:

“In 2016 people should not feel that they have to hide their stress away and suffer in silence. Feeling that you can’t be open about a problem is likely to make it worse, not better. People don’t raise an eyebrow if a colleague is off work with flu, but anything to do with mental health still appears to be taboo.

“The most recent government figures4 say that 15 million working days a year are being lost because of stress and mental illness so this is clearly something employers need to focus on.

“It’s really encouraging to see that some people are feeling more comfortable and confident about being open on mental health in the workplace. That trend needs to continue. This can be helped by creating a culture within an organisation which is open and supportive. Line manager training programmes can help identify people who may be suffering with a problem while access to external support such as an Employee Assistance Programme can offer fast and direct support when it’s needed.

“Mental wellbeing is a dynamic spectrum that applies to all of us, rather than just a few people some of the time. We all experience stress to varying degrees at some point in our lives so it is something we can all relate to. I hope events such as National Stress Awareness Day can encourage more of us to talk about mental health issues instead of keeping it a secret.”

1 Survey of 2000 UK adults carried out by Censuswide on behalf of Aviva (Sept 2016)


3 The most recent ONS figures say there were 31.77m people in work in the UK. 25% of people surveyed said they had taken a day off work through stress but blamed it on a physical illness. 31.77m ÷ 4 = 7.94m


- Ends -

If you are a journalist and would like further information, please contact: 

Ben Moss in the Aviva Press Office

Landline: 0117 928 5843

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For an audio clip on this story that can be downloaded please click here   

Aviva has carried out research into the proportion of people who have taken a day off work with stress at some stage of their career.

Below is a breakdown of where UK cities rank based on the proportion of people living there who have taken time off work with stress.

Ranking    City                  % of people who have taken a day off with stress                                    
1 Plymouth 39%
2 Brighton 37%
3= Birmingham 36%
3= Belfast 36%
3= London 36%
6= Liverpool 34%
6= Cardiff 34%
8= Edinburgh 33%
8= Bristol 33%
8= Newcastle 33%
11 Sheffield 32%
12 Manchester 31%
13= Glasgow 30%
13= Nottingham 30%
13= Southampton 30%
16 Leeds 26%
17 Norwich 25%

Survey of 2000 UK adults carried out by Censuswide on behalf of Aviva (Sept 2016)

Respondents were asked which city they lived closest to from a selection of 17 spread across the UK.


Notes to editors:

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