Employers and staff disagree on root causes of workplace stress

Work is greatest cause of stressSeventy-five percent of US employers say workplace stress is their number one health concern, but a disconnect between employers and employees on the causes of stress could undermine efforts to address the problem. Data from Willis Towers Watson’s 2015/2016 Global Staying@Work Survey along with its 2015/2016 Global Benefits Attitudes Survey reveals that the top causes of stress has picked by employer tended to fall into categories of large organisational issues, such as change and ubiquitous technology connections which can make employees feel that they are always on the job. By contrast, employees pointed more directly to specific elements of their personal work experience. For example, employees ranked organisation culture — including a lack of teamwork and a tendency to avoid accountability — third on their stress list, while employers ranked it last. Conversely, employers identified insufficient work/life balance as the top stressor for workers, while employees ranked it sixth.

“To address workplace stress, employers first need to understand its root cause from their employees’ point of view,” said Steve Nyce, senior economist at Willis Towers Watson.

“Those who base their efforts on misguided assumptions risk trying to solve the wrong problems, and could end up wasting money and alienating employees. A good place for employers to start is by asking employees directly what’s causing their stress and how they can help.”

“Our research shows that stress has multiple causes, both workplace and personal,” added Nyce. “In the workplace, employers likely will find that most workplace stressors can be addressed by local management — for example, staffing issues, lack of clearly defined roles and inequities in workloads.”

Other notable survey findings include:

  • While most employees want to reduce workplace stress and improve their health, nearly half don’t want their employer to have access to their personal health information.
  • Almost one-third “don’t trust” their employer when it comes to their health and well-being.
  • Employees tend to choose one of two options to deal with their stress: 1) connecting with friends, family members and colleagues or 2) pursuing activities such as exercise, stress-reduction techniques or sedentary activities including indulging in comfort foods or watching TV.
  • Just one in five employees seek external help from a professional or uses such services provided by their employer.

“Even with workplace improvements that support better health and productivity, the demands of work and life will always cause some stress for some employees,” said Shelly Wolff, senior health care consultant at Willis Towers Watson.

“Employers can support by helping them develop skills that better equip them to manage the unhealthy effects of stress, when needed.”

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