Research from Group Risk Development (GRiD), the trade body for the group risk industry, has found that employee stress is the number one health risk for British businesses.

The figures have been released ahead of Stress Awareness Day on 7 November (today) which aims to highlight the problem of stress in the workplace.

The annual survey of 500 employers discovered that 21% of employers considered stress and mental health issues to be the number one health risk to their business.

Of the employers surveyed, 31% said managing stress and mental ill health was going to be their top priority for 2013, a 5% increase on last year.

Meanwhile 34% reported using flexible working to tackle stress and 35% said maintaining a good work/life balance is crucial.

GRiD spokesperson Katharine Moxham, said:

“Stress is often not taken seriously and overlooked as a main health risk for businesses, compared to acute medical conditions such as heart attack or cancer. These figures prove just how big an impact stress can have on employers when managing the well-being of their business and the implications it may have on absence rates. It also provides a timely reminder for businesses to take action to avoid stress in the workplace developing into more serious, often preventable, conditions.

“In times of increased economic pressure it is important for employers to consider firstly the wellbeing of their employees and what wider implications are suggested by high levels of stress or other mental illness, and secondly what provisions they have in place to ensure both the employee and the employer are provided with coping mechanisms and are also adequately protected in case of long-term absence.

“Many employers in the private sector have a group income protection (GIP) scheme in place as part of their overall absence management strategy. Offering early intervention and rehabilitation support as well as all important financial support for employees and their families should illness or injury prevent them from working, GIP represents affordable peace of mind to many employers and can offer effective interventions when dealing with stress-related and mental health issues.”

Family concerns (20%) and maintaining a good work/life balance (19%) were shown to be the second and third health risks to businesses in the GRiD survey.

A separate study from Friends Life of 2,000 people has backed up the findings by GRiD, by revealing that 48% felt more stress since the onset of the UK financial crisis, while 49% are increasingly stressed about job security as there appears to be little sign of an improving economic situation.

David Williams, Director of Group Protection at Friends Life, commented:

“This study gives intriguing insights into stress, particularly the revelation that two thirds (67%) of 18 to 24 year olds and over half (54%) of 25 to 34 year olds who have called in to work sick due to stress have done so in the past twelve months alone.

“This is an extremely worrying number of young people who are starting their working life under strain and is something which needs to be monitored carefully.”