The Growing Problem of Work Stress & How to Address It

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It's not uncommon to encounter employees who are concerned about work stress these days. Work stress is compounding across the workforce. What's to blame? Research shows that most of the time it's the workplace itself. How can employers solve it? Changing the workplace.

Work Stress: A Growing Problem

Three 2013 national surveys show that work stress is a growing problem. A survey by Harris Interactive shows that 10% more workers are stressed in 2013 when compared to 2012, and that about 8 in 10 workers (of 1,019 surveyed) report being stressed by something at work. Only 17% of workers say that nothing stresses them out about their jobs.

Also, a 2013 survey of 1,501 workers by the American Psychological Association (APA) reports that nearly two-thirds of workers feel that work is a significant source of stress and that one-third of workers experience chronic work stress. Similarly, in a survey conducted in 2012, Gallup found that employees were least satisfied with the amount of on-the job stress they had. Stress is clearly an issue.

Why should employers care? Too much work stress over a long period of time has been found to negatively affect nearly everything in the workplace - productivity, retention, health, interpersonal relationships, engagement, job satisfaction, motivation, creativity/innovation, and the list goes on.

Plus, nowadays, with wellness top of mind for employers, organizations trying to control steep health care costs, and the need for a highly productive and efficient workforce, solving the problem of work stress is a business imperative...it's just too costly of a problem for employers to continue to ignore. If we care about our employees, their well-being, and the health of our businesses, we must also start caring about work stress and helping our employees better manage it.

What's to Blame?

Although personal stressors (i.e. life change, finances, dependent care responsibilities, etc.) can carry over into the workplace and cause stress, based on the findings of these surveys, there also seem to be many work-related reasons that employees are stressed. The top reasons were unreasonable or heavy workloads and low pay. Other common sources of stress were:

  • Lack of advancement opportunities
  • Working in jobs not aligned with their chosen field
  • Poor work/life balance
  • Inadequate rewards and recognition
  • Not feeling valued or heard

Additionally, according to ease@work, work stress can be caused by interpersonal conflict, unreasonable expectations, lack of training or resources, workplace change, lack of control at work, uncertainty, and poor communication - all of which essentially boil down to issues of management.

How Employers Can Help

Employers can offer programs and resources to help their employees in managing stress and help them achieve work/life balance such as employee assistance programs, counseling or coaching, wellness programs, paid time off, flexible schedules, family-first philosophies, time/priority/stress management educational programs, and added benefits like financial planning. Some progressive companies are even offering on-site stress management therapies (i.e. massage, Reiki, etc.) and yoga.

But stress management initiatives and programs are only part of the solution. What is often overlooked in solving the problem of work stress is the workplace itself.

It's clear that work stress is often influenced by work itself and the work environment. So, consider other approaches to reining in the problem of the workplace stress by narrowing in on the core issues. Focus on engaging employees, managing and communicating with them well, recognizing them, listening to and using their input, making sure they fit into the right jobs, offering fair pay, providing advancement and development opportunities, and ensuring they aren’t too overloaded through more effective management of workload and problem solving. These are the common “pain points” among employees. 

Oddly enough, the problem of work stress seems to have peculiar similarities to the problem of engagement and suggests that the issues are probably intertwined. Employers can make a difference and positively impact employees’ work stress by not only offering stress management resources and programs, but by truly creating a more engaging work environment and satisfying jobs.

Additional Resources

Employee Assistance Programs
ERC's Preferred Partner, ease@work, provides employee assistance, work/life and wellness services to companies throughout Ohio with employees throughout the United States. ERC Members receive one free management referral or consultation, one free annual seminar, and discounts on Drug Free Workplace Training.

Employee Wellness Programs
ERC's Preferred Partner, University Hospitals, provides a comprehensive and high quality approach to on-site wellness programs. It offers a number of wellness services, including health seminars on stress management. ERC Members receive a 10% discount on select services, which are customized to their needs.

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