Anxious about Brexit? Leaving EU will lead to psychological stress

PUBLISHED: 13:42 19 April 2017 | UPDATED: 13:42 19 April 2017

PA Wire/PA Images

PA Wire/PA Images

PA Wire/PA Images

For many Brexit, and the political and economic uncertainty around it, is causing anxiety. We examine the possible impact on the workforce and industry

Since the triggering of Article 50 the media have highlighted every Brexit development – most of which are fairly negative.

Take for example banks considering leaving the City for Frankfurt, Paris or Brussels or Spain’s pressure on Gibraltar’s status.

This continual drip feed of unsettling news can have a subliminal psychological impact on all of us, particularly among working people, who still feel job insecurity as a result of the recession, and also from the rapidly developing gig economy where more jobs are short term, zero hours contracts and even self employed.

Big events like the recent recession and Brexit profoundly affect our sense of security, with uncertainty reinforced by negative media reports leading to increases in stress and anxiety.

In 2007 and through the recession I collected data in a longitudinal study on the health and wellbeing on a cohort of 10,000 managers from shopfloor to top-floor in both the private and public sector in the UK, in conjunction with the Chartered Management Institute.

The study found from the start of the recession in 2007 to its height in 2012/3, managers showed higher levels of psychological stress – mood swings, feeling unable to cope, anxiety attacks.

They also showed a range of physical symptoms including more colds and flus, digestive and respiratory problems. What tends to happen in dramatic events fuelled by uncertainty is that employees tend to try and protect their jobs by working longer and unsocial hours, turning up to work even if they are ill (presenteeism; a term used more and more by HR professionals since the recession), attending meetings they don’t need to go to in order to show “face time” and sending work-related emails at night and over the weekend.

But by engaging in these types of activities workers are actually making themselves even more vulnerable. They are potentially burning themselves out and adversely affecting their performance – and the productivity of their organisations.

While the UK and EU are steeped in political and economic negotiations, many working people will be worried about the impact a Hard Brexit will have on their jobs, living standards, ability to be mobile in Europe and the like.

These worries will accumulate as the negative headlines bombard them over the coming 24 months, as the EU plays “hard ball” with the UK to bolster their position with the remaining 27 members.

Already in the UK, the leading cause of sickness absence at work is stress, anxiety and depression (representing nearly 40% of all sickness absence). Last year more than 500,000 suffered from stress at work, with an average of 24 lost working days per worker and an annual bill of more than £5billion, together with incapacity benefit for mental ill health around the same figure. My fear is that bill will grow substantially during the next two years or longer, both direct costs and indirectly in terms of significantly lower productivity per worker. As President Roosevelt said of the Great Depression in the 1929: “True individual freedom cannot exist without economic security.”

You might think this is only a UK problem, but given that the UK is the second biggest net contributor to the EU budget behind Germany, and a net recipient of exports from EU countries, the impact on the EU itself and many of the EU countries that rely on exporting to the UK (for example the German car industry) could easily lead to stress related problems associated with job insecurity and uncertainty among European workers as well.

It is imperative that business leaders understand the potential negative effects of the Brexit process on individual employee’s health and wellbeing, as they struggle with the uncertainties and negativity of the coming months.

They ought to reflect on the words of the great social reformer John Ruskin in 1871 when he said of pressures of work in the industrial revolution: “in order that people may be happy in their work, these three things are needed: they must be fit for it, they must not do too much of it, and they must have a sense of success in it”.

Professor Sir Cary L Cooper is the 50th Anniversary Professor of Organisational Psychology and Health at the ALLIANCE Manchester Business School, University of Manchester and co-author of the recently published book The Crisis Book

Support The New European's vital role as a voice for the 48%

The New European is proud of its journalism and we hope you are proud of it too. We believe our voice is important - both in representing the pro-EU perspective and also to help rebalance the right wing extremes of much of the UK national press. If you value what we are doing, you can help us by making a contribution to the cost of our journalism.

  • Become a friend of The New European for a contribution of £48. You will qualify for a mention in our newspaper (should you wish)
  • Become a partner of The New European for a contribution of £240. You will qualify for a mention in our newspaper (should you wish) and receive a New European Branded Pen and Notebook
  • Become a patron of The New European for a contribution of £480. You will qualify for a mention in our newspaper (should you wish) and receive a New European Branded Pen and Notebook and an A3 print of The New European front cover of your choice, signed by Editor Matt Kelly

By proceeding, you agree to the New Europeans supporters club Terms & Conditions which can be found here.

Supporter Options

Mention Me in The New European

If Yes, Name to appear in The New European

Latest articles

Al Gore: No lie can live forever

Former US vice president talks Trump, Brexit and climate change denial.

This was neither up-to-date nor a poll. And not a single participant voiced their support for Hard Brexit

A recent poll by well-regarded academics suggested the vast majority of the British public now backed an extreme form of Brexit. Here‘s why that is not the case.

Parliament is filled with “spineless lemmings”

Brexit may not happen at all – when what we need are leaders, not followers, to win this battle

Leave.EU launch deselection bid in hope of dumping soft Brexit ministers out of their jobs

Leave.EU have launched a broadside on cabinet Remainers Chancellor Philip Hammond and Home Secretary Amber Rudd in a bid to get the pair deselected.

Edward Enninful brings a new way of fashion thinking to Vogue

Fashion can be considered frivolous and in some ways it is.

My sense of humour failure over Brexit has helped clear Scotch mist

I don’t blame the Scots if Brexit leads them to want another shot at independence

The extraordinary story of how the humble spud created the modern world

The rise of capitalism and individualism in the West, and even the current reforms in China, can all be explained by the rise of the potato

Putin is just waiting for the right moment to spear Trump

Vlad the Lad is the supreme master of the macho man holiday snap...

The lesson of Singapore is not one Brexiteers want to hear

Long considered a lodestar of go-it-alone globalisation, Singapore now needs its neighbours more than ever

Truman vs. Macarthur brought the world to the brink as war raged over Korea

The dispute was an ominous warning of problems for our time over where ultimate power lies in the US

EU funding: Brexit’s other looming cliff edge

The loss of EU funding used to help poorer parts of the UK has had far less attention than other ill effects of Brexit. But it will soon be hard to ignore the problem.

Brexiteers, Trump America and the corruption of nostalgia

Manufactured nostalgia always has a political end. Its aim is to create new foot soldiers for The New Vision.

Generation Brexit: Why the young should fear the old

As the realities of Brexit and its economic impact become clearer, alarming generational splits are emerging

Thunder run to Seoul: North Korea’s war plan

As tensions in the Korean peninsula have risen, various apocalyptic scenarios for how a potential conflict might unfold have emerged.

There is no such thing as ‘fake news’

The news industry has a trust problem.

The Brexit vote has created a united Ireland, at least when it comes to the border

New Irish premier Leo Varadkar will play a defining role

Hamburg is the heartbeat of modern Germany

A seamy, subversive, self confident city, Hamburg is also a symbol of an outward-looking Germany

British industry: Brexit fiddles while the economy burns

Even without the complications of Brexit, Britain’s economy is in serious peril. But with attention elsewhere, is anyone in power actually listening?

Unis have grown fat on fees - what happens when the money stops?

The architect of the Labour’s introduction of student fees says the money charged is now nothing more than vice-chancellors profiteering

Enter the Senex: Leader of the Age of Anxiety

An idea for a movie that once upon a time no one would buy – because it was too improbable.


Watch us on YouTube

6 excellent reasons to go out and buy The New European this week

Views: 169

The rollercoaster ride of Theresa May's plummeting approval ratings

Views: 592

A year of failure and fiasco in May’s Number 10

Views: 406


Newsletter Sign Up

Sign up to receive our regular email newsletter