Do bosses and employees have different stressors?

Friday, March 28th, 2014 By Jack Nevison

If you ask employees about their biggest concern while on the job, many will say stress. A recent survey by Towers Watson found that a significant number of workers were concerned about their own emotional and mental health.

However, that same study also found that far fewer bosses share the same worries. Why the difference? It may come down to a poor understanding of what really bugs employees.

"Employees seem to be saying, 'support me, pay me, and direct me,' but employers are focused on other stress factors," Shelly Wolff, senior health care consultant at Towers Watson. "Stress has a strong link to physical health, emotional health, personal purpose and community—all contributing factors to workplace performance. Employers that fail to understand employees' views on stress risk diverting time and resources to fixing the wrong problems and, at the same time, alienating employees."

To offer an example, while employees may be stressed about the amount of work they have to do, employers likely spend more time worrying about their departmental budgets and whether they can afford to hire an additional person to shoulder some of the burden. These different priorities can lead employers to offer the wrong kind of help for a low-ranking stressor.

"Employers need to understand their employees' stress drivers…and leverage what employees are already doing to cope with stress." Recommended actions include: "improve and promote Employee Assistance Programs, encourage…vacations…and offer formal programs to…manage stress." At the same time, organizations should "look at employee compensation…staffing levels…and organizational culture. Improved manager training" could also help alleviate workers' stress. All of which will, in turn, boost performance and productivity—and lower stress.

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