Stress Identified As Number One Workforce Risk

By Stephen M. Pfeiffer, Ph.D.

A workforce risk is any issue that could compromise the efficiency and profitability of an organization and its people. These issues include everything from inadequate training to organizational culture to operational safety hazards to ergonomic issues. However, the

2013/2014 Towers Watson Staying@Work Survey

, which surveyed over 5,000 U.S. workers, identified employee stress as the number one workplace risk issue.

Why are workers so stressed? It depends whether you’re an employer or an employee.

According to Towers Watson

, employers rank work/life balance as the number one cause of stress, followed by inadequate staffing and technologies that enable them to work during nonworking hours. Employees, on the other hand, rank inadequate staffing as the number one cause of stress, followed by low pay or low pay increases and unclear, conflicting job expectations.

Stress is a significant risk to the workforce because stress affects workers’ physical and mental health, which ultimately affects the performance of the organization. And the fact that there is a disconnect between employers’ views on stress versus the employees’ views doesn’t help the situation. Both employers and employees did include inadequate staffing in their top three causes of stress, but, according to the

Towers Watson article

, that’s where the parallels end. While employers ranked work/life balance as their top stress, it ranked fifth on the list of employees. And, on the other side of the coin, while employees ranked low pay as their second biggest source of stress, employers ranked it as ninth.

Shelly Wolff, senior health care consultant at Towers Watson

, said, “Employers that fail to understand employees’ views on stress risk diverting time and resources to fixing the wrong problems and, at the same time, alienating employees.”

According to Helen Darling

, president of the National Business Group on Health, “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.” The Towers Watson survey showed that in order to ease stress, employees turn to leisure activities, social support and physical activities, yet only thirty-nine percent of employers offer overt stress management interventions. Eighty-five percent of employers do promote the employee assistance program, but only five percent of employees actually use this resource.

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