Job Hunting

Dealing with a Stressed-out Workforce

Cranky employees? Two new surveys indicate that worker anxiety is rapidly rising.
Lisa YoonOctober 30, 2002

Two new surveys have put work-related stress in the headlines again. What’s causing the neck-aching, shoulder slumping tension? It depends.

According to one survey, fear of getting laid off was the least-cited cause of stress at work. Rather, the latest Employee Outlook Index Survey by UBS and The Gallup Organization found a much more troubling answer: the vast majority of stressed employees attribute their woes to the job itself.

Of the 576 workers interviewed, half said that the demands of their jobs cause the most stress. Another 20 percent cited their co-workers as the sources of their stress. Only 10 percent of employees blame their bosses. Fear of layoffs figured least, with just 8 percent naming it as their biggest cause of stress.

In fact, 29 percent of those polled feel a “great deal” of stress in their jobs right now, while 42 percent feel a “moderate amount” of stress. Only 10 percent of employees said they feel no stress at all at work. This was true for both male and female workers, regardless of gender of respondents’ bosses.

Respondents to a similar survey showed a decidedly more downbeat take on the layoff picture. Of 750 employees and 200 employers nationwide surveyed by Cigna Behavioral Health, 44 percent said their jobs were more stressful than they were one year ago. When asked what they were worried about, 40 percent cited fear of job loss. Fifty-one percent were worried about the economy, and another 40 percent said they were “troubled by the heightened distrust in corporate America.”

Increased stress seems to be prompting many workers to walk out on their jobs—or at least think about heeling it: 11 percent reported they have either left a job or plan to leave soon. Another 34 percent said they considered quitting but decided to stay. A whopping 88 percent of those who decided to stick it out did so for the usual reason, the regular paycheck.

It doesn’t take a PhD to figure out that a stress management program at work is helpful, but here’s some statistical proof. According to the Cigna survey, companies that offer programs have less-stressed workers. Of the employees who said they left or plan to leave their jobs, only 37 percent said their companies offered employee-support programs.

By contrast, an overwhelming majority (72 percent) of those who feel more upbeat about their jobs have counseling services and other kinds of stress-management help at work. Non-stressed workers also work for companies that offer flexible work schedules (65 percent) and work/life balance programs (52 percent); promote volunteerism (50 percent); and provide physical fitness, nutrition, or other health programs (49 percent).

Down Under, Surf’s Up for Stressed Executives

All this talk about stressed-out employees is enough to give senior management anxiety attacks. When work pressures get senior executives down, one Australian executive-search firm takes them surfing, according to a recent report by the Melbourne Herald Sun.

According to the newspaper, O’Loughlan Executive Search originally came up with its Surfing Adventures program simply as a getaway for their top clients. However, O’Loughlan director Steven Asnisar explained that “the concept quickly evolved into a different and innovative platform for stress management because of its appeal to corporate executives between 40 and 50 years of age.” Aniscar added that because of the high-pressure nature of their jobs, “when [top executives] fall, they fall right to the bottom.”

For AU$2,000 (about US$1,103), executive groups get surfing instruction from Australian surfing champions, a video of the day’s surfing adventures, lunch, and a hand-crafted Malibu board for each executive, reports the newspaper. Directors Aniscar, Paul O’Loughlan, and Ross Cooper are avid surfers and designed the take-home Malibu themselves.

The idea seems to work as a stress-management tool, but we’re betting the trio just wanted to find more time to surf during the workday. Sort of The Endless Workweek.