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What Your Employees Worry about Most in the Workplace

Ever wanted to know what’s really on your employees’ minds? In 2018, Business.org partnered with Lux to conduct a study on workplace fears. The study surveyed 100 people from each state—for a total of 5,000 participants—about what work-related issues concern them most.

stressThe findings might surprise you—and they might reveal ways that your own workplace can improve.

The Most Widespread Workplace Fears

Three fears dominated the study: a lack of compensation, job loss, and overwork.

A lack of compensation was the most prevalent fear by a large margin; it was the top fear in 64% of states. This fear was fairly consistent across regions and genders (though women did show more concern than men). Unsurprisingly, the data show that most workers quit their jobs over salary concerns. If you want to keep the best workers, you’ll need to prioritize appropriate compensation.

The fear of job loss ranked as the top fear in 22% of states. Interestingly, the states that feared job loss the most weren’t necessarily states with high unemployment rates. New Hampshire, for example, listed job loss as its top fear despite having the third-lowest unemployment rate in the nation. Your workers might worry about this themselves; if you can help them feel secure in their roles, you can alleviate one of the biggest workplace fears.

Fear of work overload rounded out the top three, with 14% of states naming it their top fear. That 14% includes states like Alaska, where oil and gas extraction is its largest industry, and California, home of the infamously overworked Silicon Valley. Maybe it shouldn’t be a surprise that these states fear work overload so much. Even outside of those states, if your company culture includes long hours and frequent overtime, it’s time to reconsider.

Other Common Workplace Fears

The three fears above might be the most common, but they’re far from the only ones out there. The study also found that many workers fear harassment in all its forms—whether that’s bullying, sexual harassment or assault, physical assault, or discrimination.

Lest you think these issues only concern a minority of people, keep in mind that 33% of people listed discrimination as a concern. In fact, fewer people worried about limited parental leave than any other issue, but it was still a concern for almost one-quarter of people (unsurprising, given the United States’s notoriously poor parental leave policies).

In other words, the employees in your office have these fears. And according to the study, 23% of people have experienced at least one of these workplace issues already, meaning these are not hypothetical concerns. Of the 23% who’ve experienced an issue, 60% reported it took place within the past year—at your workplace, perhaps?

The Most Affected Workers

Of course, not all people are equally affected by these fears. The study revealed some interesting patterns about who worries the most.

Female respondents had significantly higher rates of concern than their male counterparts in five out of eight categories. In the remaining three (physical assault, job loss, and work overload), female respondents still had higher rates of concern, but the disparity between genders was smaller. The gap was largest for fears of sexual harassment and discrimination.

Age also played a large role in respondents’ fears. People aged 18–34 had significantly higher rates of concern in every category than people aged 35–54 or 55+, except lack of compensation, for which the disparity was smaller.

Conversely, people aged 55+ reported significantly lower levels of concern in each category—no doubt because many of them have already retired or have plans to do so in the near future. Plus, some concerns, like limited parental leave, probably seem less applicable to workers of that age.

Finally, household composition mattered, too. People with children in the home have significantly higher rates of concern than people without children in every single category, though the disparity was greatest when it came to job loss and lack of compensation.

What Your Workers’ Fears Mean for You

So, what can you take away from these findings?

If nothing else, you can use these data to help your employees feel seen and heard. That doesn’t mean you have to eliminate these issues either. For example, you don’t have to indiscriminately hand out huge raises and bonuses to address your employees’ concern about a lack of compensation; simply have transparent conversations about compensation and future raises to help validate your workers.

Of course, if you can fix one of these common workplace fears, you should certainly do so. You might develop programs that get rid of biases that lead to discrimination, for instance, or create initiatives to reduce the amount of overtime worked.

As you address your employees’ workplace concerns, you just might find that you have happier, more confident workers who stay with your company longer. Now that’s a comforting thought.

Chloe Gawrych is a business expert at Business.org. Over the past 10 years, she’s worked with many small businesses, from game stores to law firms. She wants to help business owners spend less time agonizing over their businesses so they can spend more time running them.