employee stress

Both workers and employers agree: Stress is the No. 1 workforce risk issue. Where they don’t agree: The causes of stress and burnout. Even worse, employers seem to be missing the boat on helping their people deal with these issues.  

Those are some of the take-aways from recent research from the 2013/2014 Towers Watson Staying@Work Survey.

Employers rank the top three causes of workplace stress as lack of work/life balance (86%), inadequate staffing (70%) and technologies that expand employee availability during non-working hours (63%).

Employees rank inadequate staffing as the number one source of stress, followed by low pay or low pay increases, and unclear or conflicting job expectations, according to earlier research from Towers Watson. The definition of “inadequate staffing” included lack of support or uneven workloads and performance in groups.

And so the the disconnect starts to take shape.

Only inadequate staffing is ranked in the top three causes of stress from both employer and employee points of view, according to the research. Based on 10 drivers of workforce stress, employees ranked lack of work/life balance fifth, while employers ranked it first. And employees ranked low pay or low pay increases as their second-biggest source of stress, while employers ranked it ninth.

Here’s the real kicker: While employers rank stress as the top issue facing their workforces, only 15% of employers identify improving the emotional/mental health (i.e., lessening the stress and anxiety) of employees as a top priority of their health and productivity programs, the recent survey said.

‘Holistic’ approach

So what should employers be doing?

There is a strong recognition that the workplace experience can both contribute to and reduce employee stress, the researchers said. They suggest pursuing a holistic approach that covers both health and well-being programs and the overall employment experience to foster a healthy and productive work environment.

“Employers need to understand their employees’ stress drivers, assess their health and productivity programs in light of the findings and leverage what employees are already doing to cope with stress,” Helen Darling, president of the National Business Group on Health, said in a press release. “Employers should improve and promote EAPs, encourage employees to take vacations, design company-sponsored physical activities and offer formal programs to effectively manage stress.”

That’s not what’s happening today.

According to the study, 85% of employers promote their employee assistance programs (EAPs), provide access to financial planning information/services (61%) and offer flexible working options (51%) to help employees manage stress — but only 5% of employees say they use these resources.

Also, the study said, only about four in 10 employers (39%) offer overt stress management interventions to employees (e.g., stress management workshops, yoga or tai chi). Employees turn to leisure/entertainment activities (47%), social support (42%) and physical activities (39%) to help them cope.

Along with the more robust use of the EAP, the researchers suggested firms to take a closer look at their overall employee experience — including compensation, lack of adequate staffing levels, unclear or conflicting job expectations, and organizational culture.

Finally, improved manager training, clear direction on the job and a review of compensation practices could help alleviate stress levels, the researchers said.

The current survey was completed between May and July 2013 in North America, Latin America, Europe and Asia by a total of 892 employers. Of the 199 participants in the U.S., 59% are public; 22% are private, and 19% are nonprofit or government agencies.





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