Over the past decade, the stresses on the U.S. workforce have gradually grown. Stress among the workforce is currently at historically high levels, driven by a range of factors—from the pressure to learn new skills to demands for greater productivity.
In our latest employee experience study, we asked 6,000 full-time workers around the world how stress is affecting the employee experience. We also looked to find new approaches employers can take to ensure they maintain a happy, productive workforce. Nothing is more important than tackling the issue of work/life integration.
Globally, 27% of workers said they felt stressed or overwhelmed at work “most” or “all of the time.” In the United States, that figure increases to 29%—one of the highest of the countries we studied. The United Kingdom, Australia, and France also reported the same percentage.
How is that affecting how happy people are in their jobs?
- 46% of those who are unhappy at work say they feel stressed by work most or all of the time.
- 29% of those who are happy at work say they feel stressed by work most or all of the time.
It’s not unexpected to see such a large proportion of stressed-out workers being unhappy, but what’s more interesting is the number of people who, despite feeling high levels of stress, are happy in their roles. That’s because stress is not always a bad thing. While it can be debilitating if stress becomes too high, it can also be motivating and productivity-enhancing to many others.
We also look at those who aren’t stressed out by work—those who said they never or only occasionally feel stressed—and we see a similar distribution. This unstressed group makes up 59% of happy workers and 39% of unhappy workers. In other words, happiness in the workplace doesn’t necessarily correlate with stress.
What impact do long hours and increased stress have on the workforce? According to The American Institute for Stress, stress costs U.S. businesses some $300 billion annually as a result of absenteeism, attrition and reduced motivation, productivity and engagement.
However, when we look at our data, the link between stress and metrics like retention or engagement is not that simple:
- 36% of those who are looking to quit their jobs say they’re stressed by work most or all of the time. 32% of those who say they definitely will not quit say they’re stressed most or all of the time.
For some, stress is the cue to leave and seek employment elsewhere, whereas others may function well under a certain level of stress and are motivated by it.
So, while some amount of stress can be good, too often it is not. Even so, Americans are working more hours than ever before, which has almost become the new norm. What can employers do to help with managing stress while increasing employee engagement and productivity?
Address the Issue of Work/Life Integration
Most people acknowledge that work/life balance is an old conversation. In today’s ever-connected world, we talk a lot more about work/life integration. People no longer live compartmentalized lives. Great organizations make sure employees’ work feeds into the kind of life they want and the things they want to do. In every employee study we’ve run over the past 12 months, this has appeared as one of the key drivers of the employee experience, impacting everything from job satisfaction and desire to go to work to an employee’s intent to stay at a job.
Organizations need to understand work/life integration and curate an employee experience that people want to be part of.
The trend for longer working hours and increased levels of stress aren’t slowing down anytime soon. Employers, therefore, need to ensure that they’re doing everything they can to help their employees manage the tension between work and life—helping employees adapt how they work in a way that suits them and keeps them happy and productive in the workplace. It’s a difficult balancing act but one that, when done right, can have a huge impact on engagement, retention, and productivity.
Mike Maughan is the Head of Global Insights at Qualtrics.