Workplace Culture

Survey: U.S. Workers Feeling Overwrought and Unproductive

By Garry Kranz

Nov. 27, 2011

Mounting stress appears to be harming American productivity as nearly 30 percent of employees readily concede being “too stressed to be effective” at work for at least five days in 2011, according to a new survey by ComPsych Corp.

All told, two-thirds of U.S. workers reported extremely high stress levels, including fatigue and feeling a “loss of control” over what happens in the workplace, ComPsych reports.

The survey of 1,500 U.S. employees does not bode well for companies already battered by the recession. Rather than focus on hiring, most companies are looking to cut costs to help drive profitability, says Richard Chaifetz, the chairman and CEO of Chicago-based ComPsych, which provides employee assistance and related services to corporations.

“Because of that, their employees are being asked to do more work than they did in the past,” Chaifetz says. “They are working longer hours, are under duress to perform at high levels, and also concerned about losing their jobs.”

The report notes that such stress creates a domino effect: the increased workload throws work-life balance off kilter, further intensifying job stress. In fact, 40 percent of workers cite increased workload as the chief stress inducer, followed by conflicts with co-workers (33 percent), balancing work and personal obligations (18 percent) and worries about job security (9 percent).

Thirty-four percent of respondents to ComPsych’s survey reported losing up to one hour per day because of stress. Not surprisingly, absenteeism increased as well, with 52 percent of employees missing one to two days per year and nearly one-third (30 percent) being absent three to six days. Eighteen percent missed more than six days.

ComPsych’s research does not quantify the financial or business impact of unhealthy stress levels, but other data indicates the cost is substantial. The American Stress Institute, based in Yonkers, New York, says stress costs U.S. businesses $300 million a year in the form of increased absenteeism, turnover, productivity losses, and insurance costs.

To cope with job stress, 52 percent of employees take more frequent breaks while 13 percent opt to take a personal day to decompress, according to ComPsych’s research. However, 35 percent say the answer to stress is to “work harder,” a situation that can exacerbate the problem, Chaifetz says.

Despite the serious implications for companies, the survey is not all bad news. For example, despite heightened stress levels, nearly one-quarter of employees (24 percent) say it does not have a negative impact on their job effectiveness.

Garry Kranz is a Workforce contributing editor.

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