Job-Related Stress Declining


Section: E-commerce News

April 7, 2007

Paul's Zanshin

The percentage of American workers reporting at least some level of workplace-induced stress has fallen by an unprecedented 15 percentage points from the year 2000 to the present, according to a study just released by Rachelle Canter, PhD, president of RJC Associates and author of Make the Right Career Move: 28 Critical Insights and Strategies to Land Your Dream Job.

Leading this 23% overall plunge in workplace stress was a significant fall in the percentage of working parents reporting at least some level of job-related stress, which dropped an astounding 20 percentage points from 2000 - with only 46% of working parents reporting workplace stress today, down from 66% reporting that stress in 2000.

Workers without children in the household reported only a 10 point drop in stress levels, according to the study. Overall, men saw a 13 percentage point drop in stress while women have seen a 16 percentage point drop in workplace-related stress since 2000, according to the survey.

Overall, job-related stress continues to be more of a problem for white collar workers than blue collar workers, with 52% of white collar workers reporting workplace stress in 2007, compared to just 44% of blue collar workers reporting such stress.

"There's been so much bad news coming out of the workplace for so long, it's great to be able to report some good news," says Canter.

"It's clear from this new survey that American workers across the board are taking the job-stress issue into their own hands and finding ways to successfully combat workplace stress instead of continuing to be victimized by it. The overall message of this survey is one of personal empowerment. You can fight workplace stress on an individual level. And you can defeat it."

Canter cites several possible reasons for the fall in workplace stress since 2000:

  1. Family friendly policies, including flex-time, are on the rise: "In a lot of workplaces, there's an additional flexibility when it comes to the work day," says Canter. "Maternal and paternal leave, leave to care for sick family members, telecommuting, policies like this have relieved working parents of some workday stress. As long as deadlines are being met, companies are increasingly flexible about how and when work is done. If you have to come in late for some reason, that's not a big deal. A sick child? Work from home while your child is napping. Want to go to your child's recital? Finish the report after bedtime. Workers still face the challenge of handling work AND family responsibilities, but company flexibility gives employers a much greater sense of control over their lives and greatly reduces their stress."
  2. A strong employment market increases job security and job mobility - and employee well-being. "Job insecurity is a major source of workplace stress and so is a lack of job mobility," says Canter. "When the economy is strong, workers don't face constant fears of job and income loss. That's a huge boost. Unhappy workers can find a way out of bad jobs. If there's too much stress for you at your present job, the barriers to leaving for a less stressful job are a lot lower these days. And if you're looking for more satisfying work, a more robust economy that allows you to switch fields increases options and potential for finding and doing work you love."
  3. Canter adds, "Employment trends are the best they have been since the dot-com implosion of 2000-2001. For the first time since 2000, the Department of Labor reported less than a million jobs were eliminated in 2006. The unemployment rate for college educated workers age 25 and older was the lowest since early 2001. And the number of job seekers changing industries was up to 46% in the second quarter of 2006. All of this is great news for workers and worker satisfaction."
  4. Technology has become our friend instead of our enemy. "Because of technology, employees know they have much more flexibility in delivering materials," says Canter. "All the media attention on the demands created by 24/7 technology ignores the many positives of technology. No more running for the 9 p.m. FedEx. You can pay your bills at work if you need to, in 10 minutes. Need to research something for your boss? Google can provide you answers in a few keystrokes - no longer do you need to go to the library or make a lot of calls to get your answers. Getting things done during the day doesn't require as much pre-planning and anticipation. Even IM is good when you need to reach someone fast. Annoying phone calls that interrupt for a single question - gone. No big huge stacks of paper on your desk. Those old memos that used to fly around ... argh ... gone."
  5. Stress caused by depression or other medical illnesses is more often cured or controlled. "Depression no longer has the stigma it used to. The bad news is that Americans are 10 times more likely to have depressive illness than they were 60 years ago, causing $44 billion in lost workplace productivity," says Canter. "The good news is that the number of people being treated for depression has increased 300% in the last decade, and over 8 million people are now taking anti-depressants and no longer feel their life is spinning out of control."
  6. According to the National Institute of Mental Health, an estimated 22 percent of Americans 18 and older roughly one in five adults suffers from depression, which frequently manifests itself in the workplace as fatigue, apathy, and a feeling of career burnout. "A lot of this has subsided as more and more people seek treatment for this illness."
  7. Employees are gaining perspective: "There's been a tremendous amount of talk about the proper work-life balance, and as balance has become an accepted practice, it has given people permission to close the door once they leave work, to give themselves more perspective and choice about the role work should play in their lives," says Canter.
  8. "More and more companies are saying no to the competition for who can work longest and hardest. They are enforcing vacations, telling people to take breaks, no longer rewarding the macho competition for who can drive himself or herself hardest." Canter adds, "And employees are also increasingly looking for more of a life outside of work, making work less central to their self-image. Gen2000 as a group is also much more committed to balance, to working to live not living to work." And as one Stanford professor recently wrote, 'Passion is an overrated virtue in organizational life, and indifference is an underrated virtue.'

According to the survey, one significant side-effect of the fall in work-place stress levels is a fall in the willingness to engage in verbal abuse. While 29% of workers in 2000 reported that workplace stress had caused them to yell at a co-worker, only 16% in the 2007 survey reported the same need to shout at a co-worker, a significant fall of 13%.

Nevertheless, according to the survey, the workplace remains a stressful environment, with 22% of workers reporting having been driven to tears as a result of workplace stress, 16% reporting company property being damaged as a result of workplace stress, 9% reporting physical violence occurring at their workplace due to stress, and 10% reporting their fear that their workplace environs might not be safe. These levels remain fairly stable from 2000.

"According to the survey, the incidents of desk rage remain flat," says Canter, "with 14% of American workplaces reporting incidents of desk rage in 2007, compared with 13% reporting desk rage incidents in 2000."

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