Workers in Canary Wharf
UK businesses have been warned that there is a 'destructive link' between workplace stress and reduced productivity Reuters

UK businesses have been warned that there is a "destructive link" between workplace stress and reduced productivity, according to professional services firm Towers Watson.

The US based company, which questioned more than 2,000 employees in the UK as part of its Global Benefits Attitudes survey, found that of those workers who claimed to be experiencing high stress levels, more than half (57%) also reported that they were disengaged.

In contrast, only one in ten (10%) of respondents who claimed to have low stress levels said they were disengaged and half of this group claimed to be highly engaged.

"The research clearly shows the destructive link between high levels of stress and reduced productivity," said Rebekah Haymes, a senior consultant and wellbeing specialist at Towers Watson.

The study also revealed that absence levels are also influenced by stress with highly stressed employees taking an average of 4.6 sick days per year compared to 2.6 days for low stress employees.

The research also found that so called 'presenteeism' – the act of attending work when unwell and unproductive – was 50% higher for highly stressed employees, with an average of 16 days per year versus around 10 days for employees claiming to have low stress.

"Wellness is about promoting changes in behaviour and encouraging a healthy lifestyle," Haymes added.

"Companies could take more responsibility for educating employees about the benefits of better sleep, physical activity, good nutrition and a work life balance in order to keep employees healthy, happy and productive."

The reasons for high stress levels were also explored in the research.

Inadequate staffing was the biggest cause cited by employees with more than half (53%) of respondents naming it as a top cause of workplace stress.

However, few employers considered this to be a major problem, with only 15% of senior managers acknowledging it as a cause of stress in their organisation.

Conversely, a third (34%) of employers thought technology that made employees available outside working hours was one of the top causes of stress.