Lost productivity due to workplace stress and depression has risen in the past two decades and is estimated to cost the UK economy more than £12 billion a year, according to the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD). “Stress,” says the CIPD, “arises when [employees] worry that they cannot cope” — affecting more than half a million of us every year.
Britons have the longest working hours in Europe and about 60 per cent of all visits to the doctor in the UK are stress related (whilst 90 per cent of work absenses are stress-related in the US, according to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention). “Stress in the workplace is a serious problem. Employees are more autocratically managed [in the UK] and as a result are intrinsically more insecure,” says stress expert Professor Cary Cooper of Lancaster University School of Management.
Indeed, Cooper concedes that some jobs, such as working on a City trading floor, are intrinsically stressful, but individuals going into those jobs usually prefer a hectic pace. “Traders, where a wrong decision made in a split second could cost the company £20 billion, usually love working on a knife-edge. But if they were told they suddenly had to do more paperwork, they would find that stressful.”
Stress can affect workers of any age and in any occupation, but numerous reports and surveys are unanimous in identifying the following jobs as being the most stressful in the UK.
Recruitment has been identified as the most stressful job in the UK. With Britain careering headlong into the most testing economic conditions in the last 20 years, the pressure on sales and marketing professionals to retain an advantage in an increasingly competitive marketplace is at an all-time high. And none more so than those employed in the recruitment sector. Despite job losses showing little sign of abating, recruitment consultants still have targets to meet.
Indeed, in a recent survey of 1,000 workers across a variety of occupations, 82 per cent of consultants report that they regularly feel stressed at work, according to the Stroke Association. Greg Orme, chief executive at recruitment company Major Players, said: “It’s not surprising that people in our industry experience stress on a regular basis. We work in a highly competitive environment, sometimes working long hours to deliver results for our clients and candidates.”
“When the economy isn’t as buoyant as normal, it can make the job even more demanding, so it’s vital that companies take steps to encourage their people to deal with stress in a healthy way,” Orme added. On the plus side, commissions can be high with some consultants reportedly earning as much as 25 per cent of the annual salary of a successfully placed candidate.
With a culture of long hours and high levels of stress, lawyers add new meaning to stress.
Unlike other traditional professions such as medicine and teaching, the legal profession is very cut-throat and is focused on achieving results and profit for an organisation rather than the service that can be offered. And this is supported by the findings of a survey by LawCare, the legal industry support service, which reported that 3 in 4 of its calls are from lawyers suffering from severe stress, with 30 per cent of male lawyers and 20 per cent of female lawyers drink to excess. Then again, when a job pays on average £52,049 (Office of National Statistics) it comes as given that stress will be a key factor of the job.
Whereas most of us have to contend with just three weeks of holiday every year, teachers have at least 10 weeks bestowed upon them, which means that their incessant bemoaning of their working conditions tends to fall on relatively unsympathetic ears with the rest of us. However, there is evidence to suggest that teaching is one of the most stressful occupations.
A study by the HSE a few years ago found that whilst 20 per cent of people report high levels of stress at work, this figure was more than doubled (41 per cent) within the teaching profession with around 2 out of every 5 teachers suffering from work-related stress. And the biggest source of stress was not poor pupil behaviour, but conflict with their supervisor, head teacher or a parent.
That said, more than 40,000 new recruits entered the profession in 2007 and, since 2000, an estimated 12,000 former teachers have returned to the job following a career break — no doubt lured by the Government’s call to “Use your head” and the promise of a handsome ‘golden hello’ incentive of £5,000 coupled with an average salary of £28,000.
If you think that nursing today is akin to a scene from “Carry On Matron” with Hatty Jakes running around hospital wards after the mischievous Sid James et al, then think again. Nurses in the UK face one of the highest rates of workplace violence in Europe and rank as one of the most stressed professions in this survey.
A study of almost 40,000 nurses, published in the Occupational Medicine journal, found that low levels of teamwork, uncertainty regarding patients’ treatments, night shifts and increased time pressures were key factors causing stress. And if that wasn’t enough, the study also found that 29 per cent of nurses are subjected to unprovoked violent episodes at least once a month, sometimes more. It said: “Nurses who reported exposure to violence had higher levels of burnout and reported more intention to either leave nursing or change employer.” Perhaps this explains why the UK has suffered from a shortage of nurses for a number of years.
With the credit crunch causing the demise of a number of major financial institutions in recent months whilst those who remain have become speculation of mergers and acquisitions, workers in the finance sector are quickly rising up the ranks of the top 10 most stressed employees in the country.
Whereas many traders and bankers naturally thrive on the notion that an investment could cost — or make — a company billions of pounds, the problem is that investor confidence is at an all-time low and is set to remain unchanged until 2011 at the earliest, if the chairman of Barclays Bank is to be believed. According to renowned counsellor Phillip Hodson, the “world of investment banking and financial services is an emotional mess.”
He added: “Enquiries from bankers are up around 10 per cent on last year. People are increasingly exploring the notion of getting out of the industry, but if you’re a 40-year-old investment banker on a six-figure package, switching to become a primary school teacher on £26k a year is a hard move to make.”
What, you may ask, can possible be stressful about working in a library? Well, according to one psychologist, being a librarian is more stressful than being a police officer or fire fighter. Saqib Saddiq published a report in the British Psychological Society in which he stated that the repetitive and unchallenging nature of their job combined with low wages and lack of control in their careers meant that librarians report more instances of work-related stress than workers in any other sector — 1 in 3 to be precise.
According to his research, Saddiq found that absentee levels were higher among librarians than any other occupation and job satisfaction levels were much lower with many claiming that their skills were not being used. He said: “Although these finding seems strange at first, they actually show how insidious stress can be. Fire fighters and police are trained to deal with the stresses that their jobs undoubtedly entail; librarians and school teachers are less likely to have these support systems in place.”
But if you are an ardent bibliophile and like nothing more than to get your hands on the latest hardback, then working as a librarian is the ideal job for you — it may not pay big bucks (typically £20,967 per annum: source) but at least you know you won’t get shouted at by an irate customer or worse still, your boss.
7. Head chefs
Contrary to perception, the most highly stressed and pressurised jobs are not exclusive to the pen-pushing white collar sector, numerous research surveys have revealed that the blue collar industries are just as likely to experienced work-related stress – with head chefs in large restaurants singled-out as prime targets.
Think Gordon Ramsay and Raymond Blanc and you may wonder why someone of their personality working within this environment hasn’t had a breakdown already. Indeed, viewers of “The Restaurant” TV series will have experienced a behind-the-scenes look at how potential restaurateurs learn to cope with constant inflexible deadlines and very public failure for any mistakes they made.
But the rewards of being a head chef are clear to see. Not only do you get the opportunity to run your own restaurant, you may find yourself becoming one of the new crop of celebrity chefs following in the footsteps of Messrs Ramsay, Blanc and Oliver.
Of all the occupations that deal with the public directly in a service capacity, it is the IT profession that has the highest levels of stress, according to a report by online learning provider SkillSoft. The report found that a staggering 97 per cent of helpdesk operatives claim that workplace stress affects them on a daily basis.
Accordingly, 1 in 4 workers admit to taking time off work as a result of stress, whilst 4 out of 5 operatives say they feel stressed before their shift even begins, in anticipation of another day juggling complaints, pressure from managers and daily targets. But one of the biggest causes of stress is not the workload or pressure from management, but from the unchallenging and sometimes ridiculous nature of their work. One operative admitted: “It is amazing the amount of time I spend teaching people where the on-off button is.”