Workplace Stress Continues to Mount

It just keeps getting worse, and the more it piles up, the more difficult life becomes for companies and workers alike.

According to a new Korn Ferry survey, nearly two-thirds of professionals say their stress levels at work are higher than they were five years ago. “There are many factors that cause increased stress levels at work, including keeping up with changes in technology, increased workloads, and interpersonal conflict,” says Dennis Baltzley, a Korn Ferry senior partner and global head of Leadership Development Solutions.

The survey of nearly 2,000 professionals, which Korn Ferry conducted in October, also asked professionals up and down an organization about the impact workplace stress had on them. More than three-quarters of the respondents, 76%, say stress at work has had a negative impact on their personal relationships, and 66% say they have lost sleep due to work stress. A small but significant number, 16%, say they’ve had to quit a job due to stress.

The largest source of current stress: bosses. The survey shows 35% of the respondents say their boss is their biggest source of stress at work, and 80% say a change in leadership, such as a new direct manager or someone higher up the organizational chart, impacts their stress levels.

The new survey results are more confirmation of stress increasing in the workplace. Indeed, employee stress levels have risen nearly 20% in three decades. Among the top reasons for the increased stress over time are the threat of losing a job to technology and the pressure to learn new skills just to stay employed.

Stress depresses motivation, which in turn curtails innovation, says Guangrong Dai, senior director of the Korn Ferry Institute. In the United States alone, only 30% of workers say they are highly engaged in their jobs. Worldwide, the numbers are even more distressing. According to a 2017 study by Gallup, only 15% of workers say they are highly involved in and enthusiastic about their work and workplace.

According to Baltzley, organizations can take steps to help reduce stress, such as offering training on new technologies and development for managers on how best to lead. Leaders can restructure firms to dismantle anxiety-causing top-down corporate structures and eliminate authoritarian leadership styles.

Lowering a person’s workload might not reduce stress, however. In the new Korn Ferry survey, 79% of respondents say not having enough work is more stressful than having too much work. And 74% would rather take on more work if they got paid more rather than cut back their workloads and receive less compensation. “There is the old adage that if you want something done, ask a busy person,” Baltzley says.