In one of the widest studies into stress in the workplace, researchers at Warwick University analysed 7,500 workers in 16 European countries to assess how changing work patterns over the past five years had affected their lives.
British workers emerged as some of the most stressed in Europe behind employees in the former East Germany, Greece and Italy. Belgian workers were the least stressed, followed by the Spanish and Portuguese.
The research was carried out by Warwick's Professor of Economics, Andrew Oswald, and fellow economist Professor David Blanchflower at Dartmouth College, New Hampshire, in the United States.
More than half the European workers surveyed found that stress levels and responsibility had increased and there was evidence of strain, lost sleep and depression. Half of British workers reported more pressure than five years ago compared with only 40 per cent of Belgians. The survey also highlighted a growing sense of alienation. At least one worker in five admitted feeling "a worthless person" at work and up to one-third lost confidence in themselves.
Professor Oswald said: "I think there is some reason for concern here... when working life for the bulk of European employees has got much more pressurised in just five years and it has become easier for almost none, I do worry about exactly what is going on out there."
The Trades Union Congress welcomed the research and said last night it should "ring alarm bells" with employers. A spokesman said: "It is an increasing phenomenon of the modern workplace but sadly an unsurprising element of this study is the feeling of worthlessness workers are experiencing." He said British industry lost about pounds 5bn a year through people being off work from stress-related illness.