What is the scale of the problem?
Stress-related absenteeism costs an estimated £4bn a year and is the biggest occupational health problem in the UK after musculoskeletal disorders such as back complaints. The CBI estimates that 30 times as many days are lost from mental ill-health as from industrial disputes.

Who does it affect?
The construction industry comes in the top 20 list of the most stressful jobs, as compiled in the last University of Manchester Institute of Science and Technology survey. Nearly one in 10 employees will have a mental health problem in any one year, of which the majority will be stress-related and depressive disorders.

What are the early signs?
An increase in unexplained absences or sick leave; unusual displays of emotion, especially irritability or tearfulness; poor performance and timekeeping; frequent headaches and backache; indecisiveness; constant tiredness; and increased consumption of alcohol, caffeine or tobacco.

What can make it worse at work?
Lack of control over work; little variety; impossible deadlines; lack of challenges, priorities and targets; job insecurity; poor working conditions such as overcrowding and excessive heat; little management support.

How can it be tackled?
Change the work content and scheduling, change physical working conditions wherever possible, and send individuals on training courses such as for assertiveness, leadership or time management. Develop a mental health policy for the company, and set up regular meetings to communicate more often and in a free manner with staff.