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Research from Perkbox, the global benefits and reward platform, has found that a staggering 92% of UK GPs report an increase in people seeking medical advice for work related stress and anxiety since the pandemic began.

What’s more, 68% of GPs surveyed agree they have seen a hike in patients seeking support for this over the past three months compared to the start of the pandemic, and 80% are preparing for levels to increase further, suggesting the worst is yet to come if action isn’t taken.

The new survey of just over 250 GPs noted significant increases in patients experiencing work-related stress and anxiety across the board, with 16-24-year-olds suffering the most. Two-thirds (64%) of GPs have seen an increase in requests for stress and anxiety support in this age group, alongside a 54% uptick in 25-34-year-olds and a 43% rise in 34-49-year-olds.

Amidst this crisis, employers are being called upon to take greater responsibility in supporting their employees – as these experiences make a significant impact on workers’ lives. Perkbox also surveyed just over 2,000 full-time employees in the UK, one in two of which agree their sleep (54%) and diet (51%) disrupted by work-related stress, while worryingly nearly one in three report an increase in alcohol consumption (32%).

According to GPs, the top three most reported contributing factors to this anxiety crisis are:

  • Financial insecurity (45%)
  • Returning to the workplace (43%)
  • Increased workload (39%)

Sir Cary Cooper, Professor of Organisational Psychology, University of Manchester, said: “Pre-pandemic stress at work was the leading cause of long-term sickness absence, with the HSE reporting in 2019 that 57% of long-term absence was due to stress, anxiety and depression. The pandemic has obviously exacerbated this trend, with people worrying about their job and financial security, returning to work with Covid still active, and the prospect of fewer people in the workplace (due to downsizing) meaning heavier and unmanageable workloads. The fact that GPs are seeing this in their surgeries is worrying, but important in alerting employers and government to recognise and develop strategies to deal with it. The mental wellbeing of employees should be a strategic issue for all employers.”

These sentiments were echoed by GPs, with 73% agreeing that patients are referencing ineffective employer wellbeing strategies when reporting workplace stress.

The urgent need for change

Indeed, two fifths of employees surveyed feel plenty of discussions around workplace wellbeing rarely results in action, as employers are being challenged to revisit their mental health strategies. For GPs, important pathways to improvement include:

  • Offering flexible working hours (42%)
  • Providing manager training on supporting mental wellbeing (37%)
  • The provision of wellbeing tools and information (30%)

Employees appear to agree, with 39% seeking a greater focus on achievements and increased recognition and 55% agreeing to see an end to the 9-5:30 working day in favour of greater flexibility. What’s more, 56% agree they want to see more from their employers in terms of benefits and rewards.

Acting on this will not only create a better working environment for employees, there are real benefits for businesses too. On average, GPs report almost two-fifths (39%) of patients seeking work-related stress and anxiety support are signed-off work, representing a huge hit to productivity hours or end-customer satisfaction for many companies.

Gautam Sahgal, CEO, Perkbox said: “The pandemic has challenged employees to re-revaluate what they really want from their roles. We know that they need and want more when it comes to wellbeing support at work. Alongside a better work-life balance, giving people a choice of health-focused activities and tools can help them prioritise their mental health day to day. That can range from access to mindfulness apps and yoga sessions to money management training and more effective recognitions of achievement. They may sound like small measures in silo, but together they can help create a culture of genuine wellbeing and support, and have a huge, positive impact on the employee experience.”