Feeling Stressed Out and Undervalued? You and Your Employees Aren’t Alone

It’s pretty easy to find surveys that support the notion that workers everywhere are frustrated by the slow pace of the economic recovery.

That’s no big surprise, because we just didn’t go through a cyclical downturn but instead, the largest economic drop in more than 75 years. Yes, there’s a good reason it is called the Great Recession, and the ripples from it continue now and will certainly go on for a few more years.

In others words, we’re not out of the recessionary woods just yet.

That is what continues to have so many workers at just about all levels down and depressed. So, it is instructive when you find surveys and research that can help us understand just how much of that workers depression is going on, because it gives a good snapshot of just how much more we need to do top dig out of it.

A recent survey by the American Psychological Association (APA) is instructive in this regard.

What is making the workforce unhappy

According to the research, “despite promising signs of economic recovery, many employees feel undervalued and stressed out at work and many are dissatisfied with aspects of their job,” according to a survey by the American Psychological Association (APA).

The survey, conducted online on behalf of the APA by Harris Interactive between January 31 and February 8, 2011, found that 36 percent of workers reported experiencing work stress regularly and almost half (49 percent) said low salary has a significant impact on their stress level at work.

But that’s not all, because there is a lot more than low salaries making the American workforce unhappy. Here are some of the other issues and the percentage of workers who cited these as a significant source of workplace stress:

  • Lack of opportunities for growth and advancement (43 percent);
  • Heavy workload (43 percent);
  • Unrealistic job expectations (40 percent);
  • Long hours (39 percent).

Yes, all of these things add up to the reason why some 74 percent of workers in a recent Plateau survey indicated they are actually passive job seekers and open to taking a new job.

This APA survey also discovered a few other things that impact employee engagement and morale, including:

  • Less than half of employees (43 percent) said they receive adequate non-monetary rewards and recognition for their contributions at work;
  • Only 57 percent of workers report being satisfied with their employer’s work-life practices;
  • Just 52 percent of employees said they feel valued on the job, and only two thirds reported being motivated to do their best at work; and,
  • Almost a third (32 percent) indicated that they intend to seek employment elsewhere within the next year.

“The recession, combined with the changing nature of work, may have forever altered the employee-employer relationship, but as a nation we can do better,” says David W. Ballard, APA’s assistant executive director for marketing and business development, said in a press release about the APA survey.

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8 companies with a positive culture and workplace

Ballard’s comments are pegged to the American Psychological Association’s annual Psychologically Healthy Workplace Awards, which will be given out in Washington, D.C. on Saturday night.

The winners, who “demonstrate how a positive organizational culture and a healthy, high-performing workforce can promote business success and a prosperous future,” are Cross, Gunter, Witherspoon & Galchus (Arkansas), eXude Benefits Group (Pennsylvania), San Jorge Children’s Hospital (Puerto Rico), First Horizon (Tennessee), Northeast Delta Dental (New Hampshire), Kaiser Permanente Center for Health Research, Northwest (Oregon), The MITRE Corporation (Virginia), and the City of Grand Prairie (Texas).

According to the APA, these employers reported an average turnover rate of just 11 percent in 2010 — significantly less than the national average of 38 percent as estimated by the U.S. Department of Labor. Surveys completed by the winning organizations show that only 18 percent of employees reported experiencing chronic work stress compared to 36 percent nationally, and 87 percent of employees reported being satisfied with their job vs. 69 percent in the general population. Additionally, only 6 percent said they intend to seek employment elsewhere within the next year, compared to 32 percent nationally.

“Creating a psychologically healthy workplace is good for employees and business results,” says Norman B. Anderson, PhD, chief executive officer of the American Psychological Association. “This is a growing trend and it is our hope that all organizations will eventually have some type of psychologically healthy workplace program.”

Amen to that. We all need some good news about where the American workplace is going as we struggle to recover here in 2011.

Yes, it seems all too often like the old “one step forward and two steps back,” but as the American Psychological Association points out, there are some organizations out there that seem to be able to keep employees engaged, the stress levels down, and the company moving ahead, even as the economic recovery sputters along.

John Hollon is Editor-at-Large at ERE Media and was the founding Editor of TLNT.com. A longtime newspaper, magazine, and business journal editor, John has deep roots in the talent management space. He's the former Editor of Workforce Management magazine and workforce.com, served as Editor of RecruitingDaily, and was Vice President for Content at HR technology firm Checkster. An award-winning journalist, John has written extensively about HR, talent management, leadership, and smart business practices, including for the popular Fistful of Talent blog. Contact him at johnhollon@ere.net, connect with him on LinkedIn, or follow him on Twitter @johnhollon.