Research conducted by Canada Life Group Insurance has found that UK productivity is being severely impacted by stress and anxiety, with employers failing to provide adequate support.  Three in ten (30 per cent) workers, an estimated 9.7 million people,[1] say feeling anxious or stressed because of high workloads and pressure to perform regularly impacts their productivity at work. 24 per cent say the same of stress caused by personal reasons.

Are offices bad for productivity?

 Different workplace environments have varying effects on the wellbeing of workers. Employees in office environments are more likely to feel anxious or stressed because of work compared to those working from home (see table 1).


Table 1: Office workers suffer more from workplace stress than those who work from home

Office style per cent who feel anxious or stressed because of work
Cubicle style 37 per cent
Open plan 32 per cent
Private office 31 per cent
Work from home 17 per cent

Nearly half (46 per cent) of employees working from home said they aren’t regularly negatively impacted by issues such as feeling anxious or stressed, tired or ill compared to less than a fifth (18 per cent) of employees working in a cubicle style office and 27 per cent in an open plan office.

Offering flexible working arrangements to reduce stress may help boost productivity. Of those who are offered flexible working, three quarters (77 per cent) say it improves their productivity. However, many employers still don’t acknowledge the positive impact of flexible working, with 20 per cent of workers saying their boss doesn’t allow it.

Lack of health and wellbeing support from employers

 A lack of engagement between employers and employees on how to improve wellbeing is causing productivity issues in the workplace. Almost half (45 per cent) of employees say their employer does not know how to improve productivity, but a quarter (25 per cent) of employees say that helpful employee benefits and perks would have the most positive impact on their productivity at work.

Staff say feeling their employer does not care about their health or wellbeing also damages productivity (23 per cent). There is a clear lack of support on health and wellbeing issues – only 16 per cent receive information from their employer on how to improve their health. Over half (54 per cent) say their employer does not provide any protection products or services to support their health and wellbeing. Only a quarter (26 per cent) believe their employer records sickness absence in terms of productivity.

Paul Avis, Marketing Director of Canada Life Group Insurance, comments:

“It is important to keep in mind that not everybody operates in the same way and being flexible with your staff can often mean creating a better working environment and increased engagement. For example, flexible working not only has the benefit of improving work-life balance but can also have a positive influence on overall employee health. People want to give their best, but we are all leading increasingly busy and “always-on” lives. Allowing employees to fit in time to exercise, drop off and collect their children from school or start/finish earlier or later can make an enormous difference to productivity. It also demonstrates that employers care about their staff and are prepared to move beyond a one-size-fits-all approach to ensure employees work at their best, which can only be a good thing for companies.

 “With a quarter of staff saying employee benefits and perks would have the most positive impact on their productivity, employers need to ensure they are supporting staff not only via flexible working but also their corporate benefits package. Employee Assistance Programmes (EAPs), often provided as part of Group Income Protection products, provide specific help if an employee is struggling with issues at work (e.g. stress, problems with other employees) or in their personal lives (e.g. debt or finding childcare/eldercare). Ensuring employees have access to a range of protection solutions will ensure staff feel they have a robust support system to help them should they need it. Whatever changes businesses make to increase productivity in the workplace, it is important that staff wellbeing is at the heart of it.”

[1] ONS UK Labour Market statistics





Rebecca joined the HRreview editorial team in January 2016. After graduating from the University of Sheffield Hallam in 2013 with a BA in English Literature, Rebecca has spent five years working in print and online journalism in Manchester and London. In the past she has been part of the editorial teams at Sleeper and Dezeen and has founded her own arts collective.