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Work-related stress surges across Europe – but mental health attitudes are improving

Work-related stress has dramatically increased across the UK and the Continent during the COVID-19 pandemic, according to a new survey.

Commissioned by AXA to better understand the mental health issues affecting its customers during the pandemic, the survey included 5,800 working and non-working people from across the UK, France, Italy, Germany, Belgium, Spain and Switzerland were included.

Of those in work across the UK and Europe, 64% expressed their work-related stress levels had increased compared with pre-pandemic levels. Of these, 81% described themselves as having a poor or low state of mind at the time of being surveyed.

Among UK participants, those aged between 25-34 were the worst affected age group with 27% claiming their mental health had deteriorated during the pandemic.

One of the most common factors affecting the mental health of respondents was missing physical contact with those from outside the household – a category in which both Brits (82%) and Spain (82%) lead the way. France (78%), Italy (78%), Belgium (75%), Switzerland (73%) and Germany (65%) follow.

AXA Health Head of Wellbeing, Dr Chris Tomkins, said: “As the pandemic continues into winter, it’s imperative that working people not only stay safe but also remember to look after their all-round health – and that employers and their health partners support this.”

Working from home is another key factor highlighted by the report. Of remote workers surveyed, 62% reported an increase in work-related stress.

“For those who’ve switched to working from home there are new challenges," said Dr Tomkins. "Your work now spills into your living room, kitchen and your family environment. So, it’s important to put clear physical and psychological boundaries in place to ensure you’re not slipping into being ‘always on’ for work.

“Management should lead by example by sharing what works for them. Try to be disciplined with regular breaks and ‘time-outs’ in your day, as these can be invaluable in helping you pause, re-energise and refocus,” he added.

A shift in mindset

Despite increasing levels of poor mental health reported across all countries, the survey also identified a generally positive shift in attitude toward mental wellbeing.

According to the report, "lockdown has acted as an accelerator for greater awareness and acceptance of mental illness", as reflected in the one third of respondents saying they now prioritise their mental health more than before. This figure rose markedly in countries hit the hardest by the virus, with both Spain and Italy at 70%.

The same figure was seen across Europe regarding the acceptance of others seeking help for their mental wellbeing, again with countries that experienced stricter lockdowns or higher infection rates reporting the highest percentages.

To read the full report from AXA, click here.


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