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Stressed out! 83% in survey say they are at work

While many Americans are happy to have jobs, most are stressed out about something at work and even more stressed than they were just a year ago.

The most common stress triggers for workers are unreasonable workloads, low pay, commutes and annoying co-workers, according to a newly released 2013 Work Stress Survey by Harris Interactive for Everest College, a trade- and career-oriented school with locations in 23 states and Canada.

“The economy has improved, but choices employers made three and four years ago are starting to impact employees,” said John Swartz, regional director of career services at Everest College. “We [employers] put a Band-aid on issues, and now we’re paying the price. Now we’re at a breaking point, and people are frustrated and stressed out.”

In this new survey, a whopping 83 percent of American workers said they are stressed out by at least one thing at work, up sharply from 73 percent in 2012. Other stressors include lack of opportunity for advancement, fear of being laid off, poor work/life balance and working in a job that was not the person’s chosen career.

Swartz says the survey results show more than ever, top management needs to create a dialogue with employees and talk about this issue of stress. “Many are sticking their head in the sand and just focusing on the bottom line.”

“If 83 percent of workers are stressed, someone will reach a breaking point,” Swartz said. Losing a valuable employee can be expensive for an employer who faces hiring and training a replacement, he said.

Clearly, employers have a lot at stake when their workforce is highly stressed: The Harris survey mirrors findings by the American Psychological Association, which also showed that most Americans listed work as a significant source of stress, and indicated that their work productivity suffered.

Yuni Navarro, senior vice president and head of human resources for Ocean Bank in Miami, realizes that job stress is a concern for her employees. “Any organization that went through a reduction in workforce needs to look at the increases in stress and invest in wellness.”

After major restructuring during the recession, the bank now operates with a pared-down workforce of about 650 people in Miami-Dade and Broward counties. Recently, it has made two moves to address possible burn out. First it initiated a major wellness program that includes health screenings, a weight loss competition, a new wellness center, exercise classes, and lunch and learn workshops on how to manage priorities. Also, all managers have recently been tasked with trying to improve processes to streamline them and cut down on unnecessary work that might be overloading employees. “That has been helpful,” Navarro said.

Matthew Casey, a vice president with business training company SmartTeam, says the job stress people are experiencing comes, in part, from the pressures of today’s connected world. Because of e-mail, cell phones and the Internet, Americans are finding it increasingly difficult to switch off from the stresses of the workplace and deflect unreasonable workloads and expectations.

“People are getting more stressed out over work because of the expectation of constant availability,” Casey said. “Some employers are directly addressing it and some aren’t. Some employees know how to cope and some don’t. What is important is to learn how to effectively manage your stress, so you can perform at your best both at home and at work."

The survey also found a difference in responses by women versus men: 18 percent of women said that low pay was the most stressful aspect of their job, while only 10 percent of men said pay was the cause — a notable gap as the country celebrated Equal Pay Day on Tuesday. The cause of work stress also varied by earnings. The largest percentage (26 percent) of those earning less than $35,000 said that their top stressor was low pay. Among the highest earners with household income of more than $100,000 a year, the largest group (16 percent) said an unreasonable workload was their biggest stress factor.

“What that shows is stress doesn’t discriminate,” Swartz said. “Whether you make a lot or don’t, if don’t deal with stress, it affects you throughout your career.”

There is a small group that seems immune, however. Of people in the survey who earn $100,000 or more, 18 percent claim to have stress-free jobs.