Why Workers Are Stressing Out

A few years ago, The New York Times published an article that essentially told modern workers to shut up and quit whining over stress in the workplace. After all, wasn’t work a lot tougher not all that long ago, when people worked long hours for little pay in physically demanding professions?

Well, of course, there were a lot of tough, stressful jobs as recently as the first half of the 20th century. But if you have been awake for the last 10 years, you know that while the physical side may have gotten better, there’s still a lot of stress to deal with in the modern workplace.
In fact, Watson Wyatt and the National Business Group on Health just released their 2007/2008 Staying@Work report, and it had a lot to say about how stress is affecting the workplace:
  • Nearly half of U.S. employers (48 percent) say that the stress of working long hours is affecting business performance, but only 5 percent of businesses are really doing anything about it.
  • Another 32 percent say that employee stress from trying to balance their work and home life is hurting the business.
  • More than a quarter of employers (29 percent) feel that widespread use of technology, such as cell phones and Blackberry’s, is a huge business stressor, but only 6 percent are taking action to confront the issue.
“Many companies don’t appear to appreciate how stress is affecting their business,” said Shelly Wolff, national Practice Director of Health and Productivity at Watson Wyatt. “Too much stress from heavy demands, poorly defined priorities and little on-the-job flexibility can add to health issues. By leaving stress unaddressed, employers invite an increase in unscheduled time off, absence rates and health care costs—all of which hurt a company’s bottom line.”
The study also found that stress has an impact on employee retention. It’s the most frequently cited reason given by American workers for why they would leave a company. There’s also a huge disconnect between how workers feel and how employers think they feel. Approximately 40 percent of respondents say stress is one of their top three reasons for leaving a job, according to the report. Employers, however, fail to list stress among the top five reasons they think workers leave their jobs. Instead, they cite insufficient pay, lack of career development and poor supervisor relationships.
This isn’t just workers whining. Modern life is highly stressful, and modern technology plays a huge part in that. The balancing act is tricky and difficult for most people, even on a good day. And although a lot of progress has been made in the work/life arena, too many companies just aren’t very flexible or understanding when it comes to helping workers cope with life.
The study also had one more interesting wrinkle. Throwing money at this problem probably won’t make it go away.
“Pay alone is not enough to retain and engage today’s workers,” said Laura Sejen, Global Director of Strategic Rewards at Watson Wyatt. “To remain competitive, companies need to understand fully what causes employees to join or leave and what causes them to be productive if they stay.”
If your company has experienced a high turnover of people; if your management seems to be disengaged with the rank-in-file workers; if people don’t walk down your halls with a bounce in their step; if your employees are running on cruise control and not motivating, innovating and/or mentoring; if the atmosphere in your workplace is so thick you could cut it with a knife; then we are here to help. Call or write and I will respond immediately!


George F. Mancuso

George F. Mancuso, CPC

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