Help your employees deal with stress more positively - Business Works

Help your employees deal with stress more positively

UK rowers

It’s 8:30pm and you finally hit send - the last email of the day has gone. You can pack up, turn off your PC and head home. The thought of cooking sends chills down your spine so you stop off at your favourite takeaway, place your usual order and nip next door to the off license for a bottle of wine – it’s been a stressful day.

Sound familiar? Well you’re not alone according to a new report from The Stroke Association in conjunction with Siemens. The ‘Stroke in Business’ report looked at how 1000 people working in different industries across the UK respond to stress. It found that workers are most likely to turn to alcohol, smoking and comfort eating to help them deal with the stress of their occupations. Actions that can raise blood pressure and cholesterol levels leading to serious health conditions such as stroke.

Despite exercise being one of the best forms of beating stress only, six employees exercise for the recommended 30 minutes 5 times a week. The report calls for employers to do more to encourage employees to undertake more exercise.

The publication of the ‘Stroke in Business’ report coincides with the launch of the Siemens Stroke for Stroke Week 2008, which challenges individuals to kick-start a regular exercise regime by signing up to row 10km to raise awareness of the importance of regular exercise in stroke prevention, whilst raising vital funds for The Stroke Association.


« each year around 150,000 people of all ages across the UK will have a stroke »

A stroke is a brain attack. It happens when the blood supply is cut to the brain, causing cells to die and leads to brain damage. Each year around 150,000 people of all ages across the UK will have a stroke – a quarter of which will be of working age, many with families and financial commitments. There are around one million stroke survivors in England and Wales, half of whom require some support in daily living. Stroke can literally create carers overnight. Each year one in five carers will give up work to care full time, potentially pushing them into isolation and poverty.

The single biggest risk factor for stroke is high blood pressure – over 40 percent of strokes could be prevented through its control. High blood pressure can develop for a variety of reasons such as:

  • lifestyle factors – overweight, drinking too much alcohol, unhealthy diet, not exercising enough;
  • age – high blood pressure is more common in middle aged and older people;
  • other health disorders including certain kidney disorders;
  • family history/ethnic origin.

The lifestyle factors are those over which we have most control. Improving diet, drinking and exercise habits can help reduce high blood pressure.

Stress and stroke

Girl rowing

Stress can be defined as the way we feel when under too much pressure. A moderate amount of pressure can be positive; making us more alert, motivated and helping us perform better. However, too much pressure or prolonged pressure, can lead to stress.

Stress is commonly perceived to be a factor in many health problems, including stroke. Although stress in the workplace can temporarily increase blood pressure, there is little evidence to prove a direct link between stress and stroke. But many of the things we do to cope with stress can lead to higher blood pressure, putting us at increased risk of stroke.

The ‘Stroke in Business’ report found that 73 percent of working people feel stress due to their occupation – this has a huge impact on their lives. Many respondents reported that stress had led to a bad nights sleep or feeling of anger. Over 81 percent of the working population believe that stress puts them at risk of stroke.

Despite over half of our respondents saying that exercise did help them to ‘de-stress’ only six percent actually exercised for the recommended 30 minutes or more at least five times a week. A more typical response to stress among today’s workforce is likely to be to smoke, drink alcohol, eat more and even turn to recreational drugs. It is these responses to stress that can have a negative impact on health and can increase the chances of having a stroke.

Dealing with stress

The Stroke Association report has found that many of the things we do to relax after a stressful day at work can raise our blood pressure and put us more at risk of stroke:

« alcohol, smoking, overeating and drugs ... put us at more risk »


33 percent of the workforce surveyed report that they drink more when stressed with those working in marketing most likely to do so (58%). Drinking more than the recommended limit of alcohol (3-4 units per day, 2-3 units for women) on a regular basis increases blood pressure, the single biggest risk factor for stroke.


22 percent of the working population report that stress causes them to smoke more, with the construction industry most likely (45%) to increase their levels of smoking. This is despite the fact that smoking twenty cigarettes a day can increase the risk of stroke by up to four times.


Turning to food to combat stress was also a very popular choice (40%), with marketing professionals once again coming out on top. Eating more calories than needed from high fat, processed or fast foods can lead to weight problems and obesity. Those who are obese are more likely to have higher blood pressure and cholesterol, thus increasing their risk of stroke by up to a third.


Recreational drugs carry significant health risks and it has long been established that cocaine use can increase both blood pressure and heart rate, which in some people can lead to a heart attack or stroke. Despite this, three percent of those surveyed reported that they had turned to recreational drugs as a method for relieving workplace stress.

Demographic factors

The levels of work-related stress were highest in the younger respondents with around 60 percent of those aged 22-35 reporting high stress levels. The 19-21 year olds are the most likely to take exercise to deal with stress (22%), but this group is also the most likely to turn to recreational drugs (6%). Workers in Northern Ireland feel the most stressed (70%) with those in the South West the least (53%). Interestingly those workers in Northern Ireland are the ones who are most likely to take the most health risks when it comes to combating stress. Over half (52%) smoke and drink more when stressed and just under half (48%) said that stress causes them to eat more. Responses to stress are similar between the genders, but women generally feel more stress in the workplace than their male counterparts (64% compared with 56%).


The ‘Stroke in Business’ report demonstrates that stress is a big factor in modern day lives across most occupations. Whilst the report doesn’t focus on the causes of stress, it perhaps more interestingly looks at typical reactions to it and the health implications of those choices, especially in terms of increasing the risk of raised blood pressure and subsequently increased risk of serious illness such as stroke.

« the cost of absence in the UK due to ill health is an estimated £13bn per year »

According to the Confederation of British Industry the cost of absence due to ill health is an estimated £13bn per year and the cost of work-related stress could be £4.25bn. 19 percent of respondents in The Stroke Association research admitted that stress had caused them to take days off.

It makes sense from both a health and economic perspective to keep a healthy workforce and encouraging people to deal with stress in a healthy way could be a vital step towards reducing absenteeism and long-term ill health. But whilst it is important for individual employees to take steps to maintain a healthy lifestyle, employers should be taking steps to encourage more workers to take regular exercise.

Government guidelines recommend that we exercise for a minimum of 30 minutes a day at least five times a week. With only nine percent of the workforce managing to achieve this goal, and with people spending a large amount of their time at work, the role of employers in increasing exercise is crucial.

There are many things that employers can do, with initiatives including negotiating a discounted membership with a local gym and allowing staff flexibility to go at lunchtimes or providing fitness classes such as yoga or pilates in the workplace at lunchtime or after work. Under the Government’s Cycle to Work scheme, employers can offer cycle loans, with the repayments taken out before tax, giving their employees a cheaper way to buy a new bike. Or employers could promote a fitness event to their staff, either promoting their own internal event or harnessing to an external, charity-led one.

An initiative that UK business can get involved in now is the Stroke for Stroke Week a campaign supported by Siemens and GB Rowing, which lays down the challenge of rowing 10km to raise vital funds for The Stroke Association. Four-time Olympic gold medallist, Matthew Pinsent is backing the campaign. He commented, “Some people assume that strokes only affect older people, but over a quarter of all strokes happen to those under the age of 65. The Stroke Association has linked with Siemens on Stroke for Stroke Week, which is a fantastic opportunity for people to realise the amazing stress-busting health benefits that rowing can bring whilst raising vital money to help prevent the UK’s third biggest killer.”

Stroke for Stroke Week 2008

supported by Siemens: 27 October – 2 November 2008

The Stroke Association has teamed up with Siemens, the High Performance Partner of the GB Rowing Team, to encourage the British public to head to the gym and row 10km (or further if desired) in just one week to raise awareness of the importance of regular exercise in stroke prevention and raise vital funds for The Stroke Association.

Stroke for Stroke 2008 is open to everyone and LA fitness, the official gym partner to this year’s campaign, is offering free access to their gyms for everyone taking part.

For more information about Stroke for Stroke Week, and to sign up to row your 10km please visit:

For help and more information about stroke call The Stroke Helpline on
0845 3033 100 or go to:

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