Survey says job stress is down,
but not everyone believes it

Publication: The Indianapolis Star

Section: Job Market

April 4, 2007

Dana Knight - The Indianapolis Star

Been awhile since Joe, the tightly wound co-worker, slammed his keyboard against the desk? Been even longer since Mary, the micromanager, had an outburst?

In a man-bites-dog kind of story, new research shows workplace stress -- you ready for this? -- has dropped 23 percent since 2000.

Among the most de-stressed are workers with children, who saw a 20 percent decrease in office tension. Women's stress levels fell slightly more (16 percent) than men's (13 percent). But overall the office seems to be just one happy place.

Which leads an understandable question: Is this for real?

"I was astounded myself," said Rachelle Canter, a psychologist and career coach in San Francisco who commissioned the research. "I started wracking my brain saying, 'How can this be?' "

All we hear and read says American workers are stressed-out, ticking time bombs ready to explode. But maybe, just maybe, that's all a myth.

To compare apples to apples, the researchers took a list of questions asked of American employees in 2000 and asked the same questions in 2007.

Besides the drop in overall stress, the study found office yelling had fallen 13 percent. Physical violence and being driven to tears because of a workplace incident dropped slightly as well. Which can only lead one to believe that boss name-calling has been wiped out. Hair-pulling is obsolete. And deodorant companies soon will go out of business. No sweat.

Of course, office tension isn't gone.

"Work is still stressful. I don't see it going away altogether, but it has gotten better," Canter says.

She attributes the decrease, in part, to companies offering a more family-friendly, flexible work life. Even more important are the employees, who have taken it upon themselves to de-stress. More exercise, yoga and Pilates. More demands to employers to help workers balance their lives.

"Employees are looking for ways to find meaning in their lives that isn't all work-related," said Canter, author of "Make the Right Career Move."

No matter how positively you try to explain the research to workers, they aren't buying it. After all, they still feel major stress. Maybe they just don't realize it's not as bad as it was.

An informal search revealed few employees who could say they are much less stressed.

While at the mall, I zeroed in on a group of four working women eating lunch at the food court, three of whom were mothers, and asked if they feel less stressed today than in years past.

"Um, that would be no," said Kelly White. "I don't think there is any way around it. Work is intense."

"It's the No. 1 stress cause in my life," said Mindy Carlson.

Still, they did concede their employer, whom they declined to name, is making improvements to relieve the stress, offering more flexible hours and demanding less overtime.

Carol Janson was the sole member of the group who said she could wholeheartedly agree with the study's findings.

"I have noticed less fighting and bickering and overall defensiveness in our office," she said. "I know my hair isn't as gray as it was five years ago."

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