Running on empty: Nearly 1 in 4 working women in the UK feel unable to manage stress and pressure at work, with only 44% confident that their employer has a plan in place to prevent burnout

YouGov polling commissioned by Mental Health UK has found that almost one in four (23%) women workers in the UK are currently struggling to manage feelings of stress and pressure at work.


  • 23% of UK women workers say they’re currently unable to manage the levels of pressure and stress they’re experiencing
  • Only a quarter know that their employer has a plan in place to recognise signs of chronic stress and prevent burnout
  • Charity urges employers to be more proactive in their approach to workplace wellbeing and put plans in place to reduce risk of burnout

With almost three fifths (59%) of working women polled saying that they feel more prone to extreme levels of stress compared to this time last year, over two in five (44%) said their employer had no plan in place to protect them from burnout, with 31% saying that they simply didn’t know if there was any support in place to help them stay well at work.

Burnout, which has been described by the World Health Organisation (WHO) as an “occupational phenomenon” is a state of physical and emotional exhaustion caused by long term stress in your job. Without the right support, this can lead to feelings of depression and anxiety, which accounted for 12.8m lost working days in 2018/19.

While the women polled identified a number of potential factors behind their feelings of stress, including job security, increased caring responsibilities and the pressure of home schooling children, financial worries were recognized as the highest likely cause of burnout, with 87% of women saying that it’s a contributing factor.

The polling found that men were less likely to strongly agree on the potential for each factor to contribute to burnout. Only 48% of the men aged 25-34 strongly agreed that concerns about job security could cause burnout, compared to 64% of women at the same age, and in all instances, men were more likely to disagree that each factor could contribute to burnout. Men also felt under less pressure, and more able to manage that pressure at work.

In response to the survey findings, Mental Health UK is highlighting the need for UK workplaces to be more proactive in their approach to workplace wellbeing. This includes using Wellbeing Recovery Action Plans, or WRAPs, a simple but effective way of helping employers identify when someone is feeling overwhelmed and the steps that can be taken to reduce the risk of burnout.

“A degree of stress is an accepted part of working life, but with pressure on households increasing in the fallout of Covid-19 there has been a worrying and disproportionate impact on women, who are far more likely to agree that the challenges many of us have faced over lockdown could contribute to burnout.

“Covid-19 may be the catalyst which is transforming the world of work, but it’s also highlighting both the need for employers to step up and take responsibility for the wellbeing of their workforce, and for women in particular to recognise the signs of burnout and know it’s ok to ask for support if they’re struggling to cope.

“Not all of the potential driving factors behind burnout are caused by someone’s job, but if someone turns up to work stressed and showing signs of burnout, it’s the responsibility of their employer to ensure that person feels safe, is fully supported, and can thrive at work.

“Three quarters (75%) of working women we polled were unsure if there was a plan in place at work to support them if they were feeling overwhelmed, or reported no such plan existed. Having a plan in place to support people’s mental health at work is a no-brainer, and both employer and employee will quickly realise the benefits.”

– Laura Peters, Head of Advice and Information Services at Mental Health UK

“My job is to help support people with their mental health but I can only do that well if I look after my wellbeing too! I find my wellbeing recovery action plan is really helpful to remind me of the steps I can take to look after myself if life feels a bit overwhelming. I don’t need to worry about bringing up any problems as it’s part of an ongoing conversation, and I see it as a real positive that I work for an organisation that cares about me as a person, not just the job I do.” 

– Emma, Mental Health UK

“Having created many wellbeing recovery action plans with clients that I’ve worked with, I was quite surprised when my line manager asked me to create my own WRAP, but it was a really good experience to write my own plan and it helped me reflect upon myself.

“It’s been really helpful for me to have identified what might act as a trigger, and what wellbeing looks like to me. It serves as a good reminder as to what I need to do to maintain my wellbeing. It’s also really reassuring to know that I can refer back to my WRAP, to see what I’ve personally put in place to help boost my wellbeing when I need it.”  

– Konnie, Mental Health UK

Click here for more information about burnout

*All figures, unless otherwise stated, are from YouGov Plc.  Total sample size was 2045 adults, of which 556 were working women. Fieldwork was undertaken between 22nd – 23rd September 2020.  The survey was carried out online. The figures have been weighted and are representative of all UK working adults (aged 18+).

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