‘Extremely damaging’ work stress causes Brits to drink, smoke and be lazy

Reuters / Andrew Winning
​Stress in the workplace could be shortening your life, a survey has found. Job pressures lead people to smoke more, drink more, eat unhealthily and exercise less than they should, posing serious health problems that contribute to heart disease.

British workers were also found in the survey to regularly work unpaid overtime, with almost one-fifth working more than five hours overtime a week.

The survey, carried out by the British Heart Foundation, found that two in five British workers said they feel their job has had a negative impact on their health in the last five years.

A third of workers also said they had put on weight because of their job, mainly through diet and lifestyle.

A stressful day often makes people want to get a takeaway or pick up a ready meal. Almost half of the workers surveyed said their work led them to eat more unhealthily.

With many employees in the UK putting in longer hours, it’s no surprise that 43 percent said their work caused them to exercise less than they would like to.

That’s not mention the traditional vices of alcohol and tobacco: 22 percent of workers surveyed said their job led them to drink more, while almost one in 10 said it’s been a trigger for smoking more.

Lisa Young, Project Manager for the BHF’s Health at Work program, said: “This survey is a stark reminder of just what happens when we don’t take our health at work seriously enough.”

Millions of people say they are smoking more, exercising less and putting on weight because they’re not considering the impact their job is having on their health and wellbeing.”

Behaviors like these can be extremely damaging, not just to your heart health but also to businesses,” she said.

Obesity, lack of exercise and smoking all increase the risk of coronary heart disease, the single biggest cause of death in the UK, the charity says.

The British Heart Foundation has called on employers across the UK to encourage their staff to spend at least 10 minutes a day improving their lifestyle.

However for some critics of the UK's work/life imbalance, 10 minutes a day is not enough.

Comedian Robert Wringham edits a magazine called New Escapologist, which advocates escape from the "everyday grind."

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Speaking to RT, he said: "When we're not actually working (which is bad enough itself) we're commuting to or from work, preparing for work, or recovering from work. We even dream about work because our jobs are so repetitive, anxiety-producing and dull.We wake from those dreams and think 'I won't even get paid for that shift!'"

"The solution is to slow down. We should either get organised and campaign for better working conditions or simply rebel and jack in the idea of jobs altogether."

"There so are many perfectly-acceptable alternatives to stress-inducing full-time jobs: cottage industry, part-time work, temping and self-employment aren't that strange or marginal. And if you also consume less, you'll not have to work so much," he added.

The British Heart Foundation's survey follows a report by the Trade Union Congress (TUC) published last October, which found that union health and safety representatives considered stress to be the top concern in UK workplaces.

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TUC General Secretary Frances O’Grady said at the time: “We may sometimes joke about health and safety culture, but it’s no joke when you become the person lying awake at night from stress, made ill through long hours, a lack of control over your work or bullying in the office.”

Employers and managers need to do more to identify and reduce risks and to provide support to employees struggling to cope.”

The higher stress risks reported for parts of the public sector are no surprise with so many services now understaffed as a result of the government’s huge public spending cuts.”

A total of 67 percent of health and safety reps in the public and private sectors said stress was a top concern, the TUC found.

Within the public sector, the rate jumped to 87 percent for those working in central government, 84 percent for education and 78 percent for health services.