One in two workers claims to suffer stress and anxiety while working, says the report by Mind, the mental health charity, with nearly 13 million working days a year lost to stress.
Its report comes after recent figures showed that almost a million people were claiming incapacity benefit for mental and behavioural disorders. Research suggested the large majority suffered from "depression, anxiety or other neuroses".
Critics claim the increase in claims of stress-related illness are indicative of Britain's so-called "sick note" culture. A Confederation of British Industry spokesman said: "One person's stress is another person's job satisfaction."
Ruth Lea, of the Centre for Policy Studies think tank, warned last month that the condition "stress" was being used as the "new backache".
"It has become acceptable, almost traditional, to talk about stress in the work-place," she said. "Ten or 20 years ago people did not use the term. There's a difference between stress and pressure, because stress has become more acceptable, it has become the new backache.
"People say, 'Sorry, I've got stress. We all accept to some extent that people have stress, but sometimes stress in people's lives tends to get focused on the workplace. Frequently it is not work issues that cause the stress."
Long hours are frequently cited as a cause of stress, although some people are believed to work longer hours to escape the stress of family life. According to Mind, 12-8 million working days a year are lost to work-related stress, rising to 45 million days lost to general stress and anxiety conditions, of which "work stress" is thought to play a part.
Analysis of stress levels shows absenteeism is particularly prevalent in the public sector, with teachers, social workers and local government staff claiming an average of 10-7 sickness days a year, which equates to £706 per employee a year. Private sector workers take an average of 7-8 days, equating to a cost of £588 per employee.
Defending its report, Stress and Mental Health in the Workplace, Mind said stress in the workplace was at almost "endemic proportions" and if employers had proper policies in place to deal with it, stress could be successfully managed, saving companies millions of pounds. Richard Brook, the charity's chief executive, said less than one in 10 companies had a policy on mental health, although nearly all respondents to a CBI survey felt mental health should be a company concern.
He said sources of stress included poor working conditions, relationships at work, long hours, lack of job security, travel, organisational structure and climate, and a general mismatch between job requirements and a person's capabilities or need