Nonmanagers were nearly twice as likely as managers to report high levels of overall stress.
When working remotely, people were more likely to say they won’t talk to anyone at work about their stress.
47.7% of employees said they fear negative consequences, such as being denied a raise or promotion, if they talk about their work stress.
As the COVID-19 pandemic continues, another epidemic may be raging in its wake: the work stress epidemic. Each year, the American Psychological Association (APA) conducts a survey on the stress levels of people across the United States. In the 2020 report, it’s proposed that COVID-19 combined with other ongoing stressors could cause a mental health crisis with serious health and social consequences for years to come.
The COVID-19 pandemic has disrupted nearly every aspect of our lives, from home to school to work. Unsurprisingly, stress related to work increased significantly during the pandemic. This begs the question: what are Americans doing to alleviate their rising workplace stress? We surveyed over 1,000 current employees to find out. We asked respondents who they talk to about their work-related stress and when they’re afraid of talking about it. We also investigated what role companies play in promoting a stress-reducing culture. Here’s what we found out.
How Stressed Are We?
To determine how stressed employees are overall, we used a validated Perceived Stress Scale (PPS) by Cohen et al., a leading international publisher of psychological assessments. The scale showed that almost three-quarters of employees experience moderate or high levels of overall stress. That being said, only about 1 in 3 respondents said they are very or extremely stressed by work specifically.
When we looked at stress levels relative to job position, we found that being a manager actually slightly reduced the levels of reported stress among respondents. Nearly 75% of nonmanagers said they experienced moderate or high stress due to work, compared to less than 68% of managers. Managers were also more likely than nonmanagers to report low levels of overall stress.
We also found that employer size impacts stress levels. Interestingly, employees at the smallest and largest sized firms were more likely than those at midsize firms to report high levels of overall stress. People working for employers with between 25 and 999 employees were over 20 percentage points more likely than those at the aforementioned companies to experience moderate levels of overall stress. This may be in part because the primary factor adding to people’s work-related stress is having a large workload.
Nearly half of respondents said a large workload contributed to their stress. The second most significant factor was worries about job security. It’s not surprising that job security would weigh on people’s minds given that the COVID-19 pandemic caused the highest level of U.S. job losses since the Great Depression. Of course, hearing news like this isn’t likely to reduce stress levels. In fact, over 36% of respondents said news events, such as the election and riots, increased their work-related stress. News events were an even bigger contributing factor to individual stress levels than the challenge of balancing work and personal obligations and worries about company profitability.
Who We Talk to About Our Work Stress
One recommended way of dealing with work stress is to talk about it with a friend, supervisor, or counselor. We asked respondents who they’ve talked to about their work stress. When we broke their responses down by employer size, we found that people working at smaller companies with 24 or fewer employees were the most likely to say they hadn’t talked to anyone about their work-related stress. They were also the least likely to approach HR about their work stress, which may be because smaller companies tend to have smaller HR departments with fewer resources.
Across all employer sizes, most people chose to talk to co-workers about their work-related stress. People working at midsize companies – classified as companies with 25 and 999 employees – were the most likely to talk to someone at work about their stress. Only about 9% of employees at these companies said they haven’t talked to their co-workers, managers, or HR about their work-related stress. Among these cohorts, those with employers who had between 500 and 999 employees were the most likely to talk to a manager or HR about their stress.
Perhaps most revealing is how the likelihood of talking about work stress varied based on if the person worked remotely or in person. People were more likely to say they won’t talk to anyone about their work-related stress when working remotely. This is particularly concerning given how working from home has become the new norm for many and may increase stress by disrupting our regular routine and structure.
How Comfortable We Are Talking About Stress
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends talking openly with co-workers and supervisors about the causes of work-related stress, but knowing you can or should do something doesn’t always make it easy. We found that over one-third of employees don’t feel that they can talk openly at work about their stress. Employees working at larger companies with at least 1,000 employees were the most likely to say they aren’t comfortable talking about stress at work.
Company culture can play a key role in how employees manage stress. Companies with a culture of safe and open communication are key to employee well-being. And yet company cultures that encourage employees to speak up about their stress are rare. Only 17.6% of respondents said their company’s culture encouraged them to speak up about stress to a great extent, and 11.1% said their company culture didn’t encourage such communication at all. The majority of respondents said their company culture encouraged them to talk about their stress to a moderate degree.
Our next question was what causes people to button up about stress? Over 47% of people said they’re afraid of negative consequences, such as being denied a raise or promotion, if they talk about their stress at work. This fear was more prevalent among women than men.
Venting vs. Complaining
Most people say there is a difference between venting and complaining, and the majority of our respondents agreed. Venting can be seen as an acceptable means of blowing off steam – or, in this case, stress – while complaining tends to be viewed as a bad thing to do. No one wants to be a “complainer” after all, but some may agree that half the point of workplace watercooler conversations is the opportunity to vent your frustrations.
That said, there may be a bit of a double standard in people’s perception of what people view as venting and what they view as complaining. Over 61% of people say they don’t think they’ve ever been viewed as a complainer for talking about stress at work, and yet nearly 54% of people said they’ve viewed someone else as being a complainer for doing the same. It appears that when we voice our stress at work, it’s venting, whereas when someone else does it, they’re complaining.
The real question, though, is how effective is venting at relieving stress? According to nearly 47% of respondents, venting is very or extremely effective at alleviating stress. Another 34% said venting is somewhat effective. Perhaps this is the reason why 1 in 10 people said their team meetings at work often or always turn into vent sessions.
How Stress Impacts Our Work
Short-term stress can be beneficial and actually boost performance, but chronic stress can have the opposite effect. Stress can negatively impact employees’ physical and mental well-being and lead to lower productivity. This is evidenced by our survey results: as people’s reported overall stress levels increased, their productivity levels decreased. Almost 86% of people said they were highly productive at low levels of stress, compared to only 53% of people under high stress. Likewise, at a low stress level, not even 1% of people said they had low productivity, whereas nearly 17% of people under high stress reported having low productivity.
High stress levels can also detract from overall job satisfaction. Aligned with reporting lower levels of work productivity, people with high overall stress were the most likely to say they are dissatisfied with their job. High stress can also increase feelings of indifference toward one’s job. Meanwhile, people who experienced only low levels of stress, on the other hand, were significantly more likely to report job satisfaction (84.8%).
The takeaway is clear: employees who are less stressed are more productive and happier at work.
How to Deal With Work Stress
If you’re experiencing work-related stress, there are many tactics you can try to alleviate it. For instance, relaxation strategies, like progressive muscle relaxation, can help reduce tension caused by anxiety. Mindfulness can also help train the brain to stop worrying about the future. You can also try to reframe how you view the situation by looking for the positives. Most of all, don’t be afraid to ask for help, whether through someone at work or outside of the job.
While we hope your work-related stress is manageable, if you do decide it’s too much and need a job change, we at Joblist are here to help. Our mission is to help you find your next job with ease. We have opportunities for every industry, employer size, and location throughout the United States, Canada, Australia, and the United Kingdom. With personalized search results, you’re sure to find a better match among the millions of job opportunities available. See the search results for yourself by visiting us online at Joblist.com today.
Methodology and Limitations
We surveyed 1,016 current employees about their experience with stress specifically related to work. Respondents were 51.8% men and 47.7% women. Three respondents were nonbinary, and one respondent chose not to disclose their gender. The average age of respondents was 39.5 with a standard deviation of 11.9 years.
Respondents completed the full Cohen et al. validated Perceived Stress Scale to determine their general overall stress levels. Based on the individual scores on the scale, we separated respondents into three groups: low stress, moderate stress, and high stress.
The data we are presenting rely on self-report. There are many issues with self-reported data. These issues include, but are not limited to, the following: selective memory, telescoping, attribution, and exaggeration.
Fair Use Statement
We hope you found this information on work stress helpful. If you think it can help others, we’d love for you to share it. We only ask that when you do so, it’s for noncommercial purposes and you include a link back to this page so that readers can view the results in their entirety. Thank you.