Employers Take Note: Americans are some of the most stressed-out people on the planet

May 15, 2019 Perry Landers

According to Gallup’s 2019 Global Emotions Report, Americans are some of the most stressed people in the world—and their stress levels are at an all-time high.

Gallup conducted a survey of more than 151,000 adults in 143 countries to measure the world’s emotional temperature. The survey asked people to think about their experiences from the previous day, and to answer “yes” or “no” to whether they experienced five positive or five negative experiences a lot. The negative experiences included anger, sadness, stress, worry and physical pain, while the positive experiences included enjoyment, feeling well-rested, learning something new, smiling or laughing, and being treated with respect.

By measuring the overall emotional experience of life, researchers aimed to gauge the health and vitality of a country’s people in a way that traditional economic measures such as GDP can’t.

The Stress Statistics

According to the responses, 55 percent of Americans experienced a lot of stress the day prior to the survey. Not only is this an all-time high for America (by contrast, 44 percent of Americans reported feeling a lot of stress in 2008), it also places the United States fourth on the list of most stressed-out countries behind Greece, the Philippines and Tanzania, and tied with Iran, Sri Lanka and Albania. The global average for stress is 35 percent.

Americans also reported an all-time high for worry, with 45 percent of respondents reporting feeling a lot of worry the day prior to the survey. While America was not at the top of the list of most worried countries in the world—those spots are occupied by Mozambique, Chad and Benin—Americans still polled higher than the world average of 39 percent.

Cause for Concern

While it is not clear what sort of stress survey respondents experienced, what is without doubt, is that growing levels of stress represent a major public health concern—especially if trends continue. While stress can be good thing, chronic stress can lead to a number of physical and mental issues. Doctors often cite chronic stress as a source of headaches, upset stomachs, heart disease, obesity, high blood pressure and diabetes. Anxiety, depression, and difficulty eating or sleeping are also tied to stress. If these symptoms weren’t problematic enough, many people turn to drug or alcohol misuse, overeating or undereating, or a number of other unhealthy behaviors when trying to cope with stress.

Why are Americans so stressed out? According to the Stress in AmericaTM surveys conducted by the American Psychological Association (APA), money and work are consistently among the top stressors. In 2017, 62 and 61 percent of respondents reported money and work were significant sources of stress, respectively. In addition, 63 percent of respondents reported the future of the nation as a source of significant stress, coming off the most recent election cycle. People also often name health, healthcare, and constant access to social media and technology as significant stressors.

What Can Employers Do?

As believed by the World Health Organization, stress is the health epidemic of the 21st century.

While there is no way to discuss at length the myriad of ways employers can and should address workplace stress, there’s no doubt it’s a topic employers need to heavily consider. Not only is stress crippling Americans with various health issues, but the APA estimates it is costing the American economy up to $500 billion per year due to productivity loss and medical costs.

With stress at an all-time high, and the average working American spending 44 hours per week working, employers have a tremendous opportunity to address the issue. And with 62 percent of Americans citing work as a major stressor, it might be safe to say employers have an obligation to address it. So, where can employers start?

Dealing with symptoms of stress does no good if the underlying causes are not first addressed, so employers need to start by investigating the systems and environments within the workplace that might be causing stress. Long hours, heavy workloads, tight deadlines, unrealistic expectations, low salaries, and job insecurity are commonly cited as the main drivers of workplace stress. Employers can take inventory of their workplaces through manager 1:1 conversations or company-wide surveys. When a pain point is identified, employers should make it a priority to develop a plan to alleviate it, whether that be by providing more resources, providing better manager support, shifting priorities, or redelegating responsibilities, to name a few.

Though stress is a complex issue, employers can, and must, do their part to not contribute to its causes. With the health risks equated with stress, and the costs to businesses and the economy, the upward trend of American stress will only become more costly unless addressed.

The Next Leading Cause of Death?

If you’re interested in learning more about the cost of stress and poor conditions in the workplace, join Vitality for a critical webinar on June 6, 2019: “The Next Leading Cause of Death: The Workplace?” During the webinar, Vitality CEO Tal Gilbert, Barry-Wehmiller Chairman and CEO Bob Chapman, and Dying for a Paycheck author Dr. Jeffrey Pfeffer will discuss everything employers need to know to make sure their workplaces aren’t contributing to the stress epidemic and the nearly 120,000 deaths per year attributed to poor workplace environments.

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