A New Year’s resolution: Reduce stress at work

ManagementWould you like to enjoy your job and live longer? Who wouldn’t!

So, what’s the No.1 thing getting in the way?

If you guessed stress, take a day off.

In a recent Towers Watson Staying@Work Survey, both employers and employees agreed on the need to reduce stress at work.

And while that would seem a great parallel discovery, it’s not really, because they fail to agree on the causes.

And that means employers — and therefore managers — are missing out on opportunities to help people handle stress.

Top 3 responses

Here are the key take-aways from the survey:

Employers rank the top three causes of workplace stress as:

  1. Lack of work/life balance (86%).
  2. Inadequate staffing (70%).
  3. Technologies that expand employee availability during non-working hours (63%).

Which is not exactly how the other half sees it.

For employees, the top three list looks like this:

  1. Inadequate staffing.
  2. Low pay and/or lousy raises.
  3. Unclear or conflicting job expectations.

You're Fired!
For the purposes of the survey, the definition of inadequate staffing included lack of support for tasks/responsibilities, and uneven workloads and performance in groups.

But beyond that one point of agreement, inadequate staffing, the disconnect really takes shape.

Of the 10 causes of workforce stress listed in the survey, employees ranked lack of work/life balance as fifth, while employers ranked it first.

Employees ranked low pay or low pay increases as their second-biggest source of stress, while employers ranked it … ninth.

And this is telling: While employers rank stress as a top people issue , only 15% cited  improving the emotional/mental health of employees as a top priority of their health and productivity programs, the recent survey said.

The fix?

So what should employers be doing?

There is a strong recognition that the workplace experience can both contribute to and reduce stress. The research suggests an approach that covers both health and well-being programs and the overall employment experience to improve the 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,” said Helen Darling, president of the National Business Group on Health.

“Employers should improve and promote EAPs, encourage employees to take vacations, design company-sponsored physical activities and offer formal programs to effectively manage stress.”

Which is exactly what’s not happening.

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.

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