excessive workplace stress
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According to research conducted by the Dolan Contractor Group, one in every eight UK employees have taken time off for excessive workplace stress in the last year

The study gathered responses from employees of 140 companies across the UK.

Respondents were asked about the causes of what was deemed ‘excessive workplace stress’, how they combat stress to maintain good mental health and what their employers do to support them through stress.

The greatest cause of this stress in the UK workplace was found to be long working hours, with 41% of respondents to a study stating that they have been affected. Next most common is deadline or client pressure with 32%, followed by low pay and inability to build financial savings with 29%.

The study also identified differences in how stress is experienced between genders, and between employees of SMEs or large companies. Also revealed were crucial differences between the support available to permanent employees and that offered to employees hired on a contractor or freelance basis.

When asked how they would deal with stress, 6% of permanent employee respondents stated that they would not seek help if they were suffering from excessive stress, opting to ‘hope it gets better’. This figure rose to 17% of contractors and freelancers surveyed.

There were clear differences between SMEs and large companies when employees attributed sources of stress. Just under half of employees in SMEs (47%) stated that low pay, the inability to build savings and no chance of progression were stress points.

When respondents were asked how they’d tackle stress, 30% of those at large companies stated that they would speak to their manager. The amount who would seek help from their manager reduced to 12% of workers at SMEs. It’s possible that small businesses need to work harder to provide anonymity or an environment that workers feel comfortable to confide in senior staff members.

The majority of employees from large companies stated that long working hours (40%) caused them the most stress, followed by overwork and management pressure (36%).

Further findings from the study:

  • Female contractor workers are less likely to suffer from excessive stress due to long working hours when compared to female permanent workers. It is still predominantly women who take time off work, as the main carers for children within a family. They have to set their working hours around childcare, made possible by freelancing and contracting.

  • Contractors and freelancers were found to rely more heavily on their friends and families for support, with 26% stating this was their method to combat excessive stress. Furthermore, 30% of contractor and freelancer workers have taken leave from work to combat excessive stress.

Lauren Monks, Group Operations Director at Dolan Contractor Group, states:

“The Stress in the workplace study deepens our understanding of our contractors, freelancers and the self employed. It outlines the key areas that cause stress and so gives us and employers insight to help reduce stress in the workplace.

Stress is prevalent in all areas of work and across all industries regardless of the way you work- as a traditional employee or via your own limited company or umbrella employment, though contractors and freelancers are rarely mentioned in the conversation for stress in the workplace and mental wellbeing.

With the potential IR35 reforms looming, this adds a degree of uncertainty which we understand is unsettling and stressful for our clients. With 27% of contractors and freelancers stating that tax, red tape, and government changes contribute to excessive stress at work, we make sure that we offer IR35 contract reviews so our clients have the advice they need, plus we can offer them both umbrella employment as well as limited company accountancy. This takes the added stress of finding a new umbrella employer should the IR35 reforms affect them.”

Richard Holmes, Director of Wellbeing at Westfield Health, provides further comments on the study:

Burnout is a state of emotional, physical and mental exhaustion caused by excessive and prolonged stress. Pressure at work is usually the main culprit and when budgets are tight and teams are small, people often find themselves with multiple roles and heavy workloads, piling on the stress.

“Policies like flexible or remote working can help employees balance work and home life, and things like turning off email servers outside of working hours helps ring fence valuable recovery time. Mental health first aid training can also help managers spot the signs or triggers and put preventions in place.

“Contractors or freelancers who don’t have the support of HR might need to adopt their own strategies such as setting working hours, turning off email alerts out of these hours and separating work and living space if working from home.”


  1. I managed to beat work stress. Initially I felt myself becoming ill very tense and with a feeling that nobody cared about that . My situation was: I was working short-staffed in an unfriendly very corporate high achieving academy in London as a support role. There had been a complete change of management throughout the school since I joined. The new management were not so friendly as when I joined. My stress levels were caused by the following: I was living on the other side of town,(normal stressful tube commute) in a house occupied by two manic depressive older chain-smoking alcoholics with serious illnesses and frequent ambulances to the house. I was getting extra targets and meetings about these targets that were often just added to the sheet of paper to fill it up, the managers did not understand my job properly and the levels of stress I was already on. One of the caretakers came to see me and told me that they were trying to cut staff by putting pressure on them, in addition my mother was undergoing a serious heart operation at one point in a hospital which was in view of my window at work!
    The build up of all these factors started to make me very irritable and stressed both at work and at home. The important thing to realise was that I was on my own… in fighting the stress, I realised that they had forgotten about the education of the children, being short-staffed I found increasing my hours to 3 extra hours a day and physically moving around more in order to keep the required support work to normal levels actually helped me, I was no longer a victim of stress, I was actively fighting the cause of the pupils needing education. This helped considerably.
    Of course I worked on escape routes, but even then I cancelled an interview in order to support an A level exam that would not have been able to take place without my work. Being a musician in my spare time also helped. I was able to corral the effects of the people giving me stress, but of course I made a mental note and will never be involved with any establishment of which they are a part!


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