Stress Test: What Are You Doing To Combat the Number One Workforce Risk?

A 2014 study by Monster found that nearly half of the U.S. workers they surveyed left a job due to an overly stressful environment, according to a worrisome article on

The study discovered that 42 percent of the participants “purposely changed jobs” due to an overly stressful work environment. And another 35 percent have thought about changing jobs for the same reason. The article then poses the million-dollar question: What are U.S. organizations doing to change such stressful work environments?

Actually, that’s not a million-dollar question. It’s a billion-dollar question. Stress is costing America’s employers billions of dollars every year, with some estimates putting the total as high as $300 billion.

In the 2013/2014 Towers Watson Staying@Work Survey, Towers Watson and the National Business Group on Health report that stress is the number one workforce risk issue. Despite this, only 15 percent of employers identify lessening the stress and anxiety of their employees as a top priority of their health and productivity programs. So the answer to the question, “What are U.S. organizations doing to change such stressful work environments?” seems to be … not nearly enough.

That’s a shame—and it’s self-defeating. Stress has a measurable, bottom-line impact on our employee engagement and productivity levels. And it ravages our revenues in the form of absenteeism, presenteeism and higher health care costs.

We wouldn’t presume to tell employers how to go about reducing stress in their organizations. Truly appropriate and meaningful solutions are unique to each company and highly dependent upon culture, work environment and the specific problems employees are experiencing. However, we are diligent about reminding employers that performance reviews offer them a golden opportunity to create a strategy and action plans that address stress in their organizations.

Of course, this golden opportunity can’t be leveraged if you’re simply going through the motions during your performance appraisals—offering a quick critique of an employee’s performance, doling out new goals and targets, reviewing their salary increase or lack of one, etc. These one-way information dumps simply don’t qualify as genuine performance reviews, and they do nothing to help managers gain insight into how much work-related stress their employees are under, the causes of this stress, and even what they would like the company to do about it.

As we’ve written in the past, it’s unfortunate that a significant number of employers still use an outdated approach for their performance reviews. And with the causes and effects of stress continuing to mount and to erode the wellbeing of our companies, it’s more important than ever that we make performance reviews a two-way discussion and information-gathering tool.

By doing so, we’ll not only better understand how we can combat stress but we’ll also keep our best people from purposely jumping ship to seek a better work life.