Stress is driving workers to the door. What they want you to do

With World Mental Health Day approaching on Oct. 10, many organizations will be emphasizing employee wellbeing in the coming days. That’s a needed approach for both employees and the employer, according to a new report from the American Psychological Association.

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The APA’s 2021 Work and Wellbeing Survey found that 44% of American workers plan to change jobs in the coming year for a multitude of reasons–particularly, stress. In 2019, only one-third of respondents were headed for the door.

That potential for high turnover could impact many industries already facing worker shortages, particularly the hospitality and healthcare sectors, according to the the APA, which conducted its survey online (with help from The Harris Poll) among more than 1,500 U.S. employees this summer.

Additional APA findings include 59% of employees reported experiencing negative impacts of work-related stress, with low salaries (56%, up from 49% in 2019), long hours (54%, up from 46%) and lack of opportunity for growth or advancement (52%, up from 44%) most commonly reported as having a “very” or “somewhat” significant impact on stress levels at work–and being the impetus for the potential turnover increase.

At last week’s HR Technology Conference, Madeline Laurano, founder of Aptitude Research, pointed to pay and work/life balance as significant drivers of the Great Resignation.

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“You have to pay people more money. You have to provide flexibility to let them work from home and you need to rethink your company’s standards around work and life,” she said.

The APA advises employers to take their employees’ stress levels seriously–as they are impacting both the workers and the organization.

“Stress at work can have broad, negative consequences for employers and employees alike, including loss of productivity, high turnover and repercussions for the employee’s physical and emotional health,” says Arthur C. Evans Jr., APA’s chief executive officer. “A workplace that pays attention to worker wellbeing is better positioned to recruit and retain engaged and productive staff.”

Related: Employers agree: The Great Resignation is a ‘real, present’ danger

Apart from boosting pay, the APA says there are actions employers can take to improve employee wellbeing and support mental health, which in turn can potentially slow attrition rates. Employees agree, with 87% of those surveyed by the APA saying their mental health could improve if their employer would step up. In particular, they would urge employers to offer flexible hours (34%), encourage employees to take care of their health (32%), advocate for employees to use paid time off (30%) and offer breaks during the workday (30%).

“During the pandemic, many employers switched to remote work where possible, thus providing greater flexibility for their employees,” Evans says. “Policies that promote flexible hours and breaks during the workday and provide other forms of support for employees to take care of themselves may also help employers retain staff in competitive markets.”

Women were more likely than men to say employers should pay employees equitably (50% vs. 43%) and allow flexibility (47% vs. 36%). However, women were less likely than men to say they receive adequate monetary compensation for their contributions at work (65% vs. 74%).

If they could only have one extra perk from their employer? It comes down to money. One-third would opt for a higher salary, followed by more flexibility (14%), more time off (13%) and better benefits (12%).

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Tom Starner
Tom Starner is a freelance writer based in Philadelphia who has been covering the human resource space and all of its component processes for over two decades. He can be reached at [email protected].