Overstressed and Overworked

imagesTo paraphrase a very familiar patriotic tune, “Oh beautiful for spacious skies……….from sea to shining sea.”, America truly is a magnificent place to live.  Built on the values of our forefathers, the United States grew from a mere thirteen colonies to fifty strong and thriving states. Now within its third century, the United States sits as one of the most powerful nations in the world.  The question is, is it worth it and what does it ultimately cost?

As they say, getting to the top does not come easy.  Hard work and a little bit of luck go a long way.  However, consider that even with all of the advances in technology and the conveniences of the modern day world, that employers lose an estimated $150 billion annually in revenue due to stress related costs.  In today’s work force, employers and employees alike are forced to do more with less in addition to working long hours, which puts them under constant pressure to do their jobs faster and better. Stress in the workplace can result from any one of several situations, such as a need to respond to others’ demands and timetables with little control over events, family responsibilities, financial dilemmas, etc. The demands placed upon us often times can exceed our resources and when this happens, feelings of anger, disappointment, and frustration increase. Over time, this situation can result in working environments where employee motivation is negatively affected by increasing stress levels, thus resulting in decreased performance, increased absenteeism and higher health care costs. To an employer, stress costs time lost in productivity, absenteeism, poor decision making, stress related mental illness and substance abuse.

A three year study of a major corporation revealed an alarmingly disturbing association between stress and its affects on time, productivity, and money lost at work.

  • 25% of Americans suffer from a mental health problem rooted in stress.
  • 75% of Americans describe their jobs as stressful.
  • 50% of workdays lost annually in the US are stress related.
  • Over 50% of work days lost annually in the US are stress related.
  • Over 46% of all employees are stressed to the point of burnout.
  • One out of four American workers suffers a mental health problem rooted in stress.
  • In 2000, those at-risk for stress related illnesses were revealed as the costliest risk factor, accounting for $6 million, or 7.9%, of total expenditures.
  • In 2001, health care spending by employers averaged $5,266 per employee.
  • In 2004, approximately 75% of Americans described their jobs as stressful, which clearly links stress to high health care costs.

Research continually reveals that emotional stress has an immediate and profound affect on our daily performance.   Furthermore, it contributes to our health problems, and as Americans, we absorb the rising health care costs.  But is it that we are just simply overstressed, or are we overworked?

In a Chicago Tribune article titled, “Call It a Day America” (May 2002), a survey had showed that 37% of American workers work more than 50 hours per week.  It also discovered that Americans have the least amount of vacation time in the industrialized world, averaging two weeks per year as compared with European workers who average six. In Europe, vacation is a guaranteed right mandated by federal statutes.  Here in the States, there are no legal rights to a paid vacation. Vacation time however, should be a higher priority when you consider that the average American works 12.5 weeks more than German workers, 6.5 weeks more than British workers, and 6.0 weeks more than they did 20 years ago.   There could be numerous reasons as to why we are reluctant to take time off from work, such as not wanting to fall behind schedule or thinking our bosses will perceive us as not working hard enough. But in the long run, it puts us all at risk for any one of the stress-related illnesses.  Basically, we are overworked and over our heads by trying to do it all, all the time.

In the New Year, make it a point to set time aside not only to vacation, but to devote time to unwinding or de-stressing from your daily grind.  Activities like exercise, yoga, massage, meditation, reading books, etc. can be both a distraction and a benefit to your health.  Do whatever you can to not be swept into the rut and take care of yourself.  Afterall, it is one beautiful country to enjoy, “…from sea to shining sea!”

Featured in October 2006 Issue of 422 Business Advisor

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