Companies need to treat stress as seriously as other work-related illnesses and introduce strategies to reduce it, according to the Health and Safety Executive (HSE).

It said workplace stress was the second most common type of occupational ill health in the UK with only musculo-skeletal disorders more prevalent.

Stress-related illness is responsible for the loss of 6.5m working days a year and costs employers around £370m every year, according to HSE research.

The HSE said around half a million people suffered from work-related stress, with 150,000 employees taking at least one month off work with a stress-related condition. Workers aged 35 to 44 suffered the highest rates of stress, with employees more likely to be stressed than the self-employed.

HSE's stress spokesperson, Elizabeth Gaskell said managers had a key role to pay in reducing the amount of workplace stress. “The spread of good management practice is absolutely vital and I would urge organisations to work alongside us to share knowledge and develop practical solutions.”

The HSE has published a guide on tackling workplace stress, helping managers identify who is at risk and what steps they can take to prevent problems.