Good grief. Yet another study confirms what we already know:
Work stress is really getting to us — and there’s no relief in sight. Women, especially, are unhappy, but male co-workers hardly are dancing on their desks. Fully 70 percent of women ranked their stress level at 5 or higher out of 10. More than half the women would not seek the same kind of career if they lost their job tomorrow.
This news comes from a study of 2,000 workers in Great Britain, conducted by a career transition company, Lee Hecht Harrison Penna.
I have two hunches here:
First, any woman who pinpointed her stress level at a middling 5 was being generous.
(The technical term for this is “lying.” See: Programmed from birth to be a team player and peacekeeper.)
Two, I’d wager that most women would, in fact, seek the same career again — if they worked for a company that practiced work-life balance instead of just publishing it in their mission statement.
The British study was part of a larger research project to better understand “the wider world of work and the impact it has on people,” said spokesman Greg Hart.
Of the 2,000 respondents, 875 were female. About half were ages 35 to 54. The others were closely divided between 18- to 34-year-olds, and those 55 and older.
Respondents were asked questions about their workplace, careers and their thoughts on the future of work.
The present of work, apparently, “is high levels of stress and unhappiness.”
While some stress at work is expected, and can even be a positive impetus for accomplishing goals, “we shouldn’t accept that full-blown stress or unhappiness at work is just a given,” the study authors wrote.
This is the most recent of many studies I’ve come across confirming that worker bees are struggling to preserve work-life balance and, increasingly, their mental health.
Mental health issues are cropping up more in the workplace and most supervisors report feeling ill-equipped to identify such struggles, or know how to help.
“The stigma around mental health remains, and I wouldn’t trust the average workplace to not find a way to punish for it,” said Liz Reyer, a leadership development coach whose column on workplace challenges runs in the business section of the Star Tribune.
“Our society is brutal right now,” she said. “There is so much lack of compassion in people’s interactions. The role of managers is to be compassionate, be aware. One of the problems is that when you think of the average manager’s life, a lot are spending seven hours a day in meetings.
“When do they have time to notice how things are going for their team?”
Managers, too, are under extreme pressure, she noted. “There’s so much ‘going lean,’ so much cost-cutting, so little time to think. People, in general, feel really pressed to do a good job.”
Reyer was not surprised by the study’s findings regarding women. While men report intense pressure to find and keep a job, and to avoid screwing up in front of the boss, women still carry a bigger burden, because their work doesn’t end at the office.
Fifty-two percent of women in the current study reported working at least one additional hour per day.
Reyer speculates that one hour “is the tip of the iceberg. It indicates that women never feel caught up. They’re always trying to do more, more, more and there’s always more to do.”
Then they head home faced with equally relentless expectations. That “inevitable sense of pressure” to get dinner on the table, for example, means a woman will forgo a quiet walk alone to recharge, Reyer said.
“It’s still out of balance.”
The road to a healthier workplace for everybody isn’t that complicated.
Bosses, take a few notes:
• Train your managers to become great, or even really good, leaders. That means helping them develop good people skills.
“People will knock themselves out when they feel management has their back,” Reyer said. “You can have the best benefits and pay, but if you have a jerk undermining you, you won’t be happy.”
• Offer paid parental leave. The United States is the only country among the 41 countries that does not mandate any paid leave for new parents. Thirty-one of those other countries offer paternity leave.
• Offer flexible work hours.
• Respect boundaries. Don’t promote work-life balance, then e-mail your employees on a Sunday morning or during their vacation.
• Remember that a good health care package includes mental health support and resources. Talk openly about mental health challenges and what your company is doing to ease the way for co-workers and their families.
• Create a welcoming environment for everyone. The pressures of being an older worker or a millennial, of being of color, or gay, often adds isolation to the list of reasons a dedicated worker becomes less engaged — and way more stressed.
• Create paths to growth. Wise companies, Reyer said, build in internships and training to support and promote promising employees.
• Related to that, sit down often with each valued team member and ask her or him: “Do you feel you have a chance to succeed here?”
If the answer is no, work together to change that.