Overworked, Overstressed and Underpaid


By Samuel Greengard

According to a recently released Harris Interactive study conducted for Everest College, eight in 10 workers report that they are stressed by something taking place at work. That's a 10 percent increase over 2012 and a continuation of a long-term trend.

The leading causes of stress are low pay, unreasonable workloads, annoying coworkers and poor work/life balance.

Frankly, I'm a bit surprised that the figure isn't 100 percent. After years of downsizing, rightsizing, budget cuts and always-on office connections, most of us are approaching the breaking point. It's not uncommon for one worker to do what used to be the job of two or three others. To accomplish that, the worker must carry the job into nights, weekends and vacations.

There are a couple of major problems here. First and foremost, this situation is unsustainable over the long-term. You can push people only so far before the cracks become fissures.

During the last few years, many companies have redefined the concept of bad service and support by attempting to have too few people do too much work with too many automated systems and way too many metrics. The result: lapses, mistakes and meltdowns.

Second, there's a good deal of evidence that information technology—while boosting overall productivity—is leading to a downward spiral in terms of wages and working conditions. It's disrupting and crumpling entire industries while draining the blood out of workers. Worse, there's growing concern among many experts that society may be entering a long-term period of limited growth, despite rapidly advancing technologies.

Robert Gordon, a professor of social sciences and economics at Northwestern University, points out that there was virtually no economic growth before 1750, and there's no guarantee that it will continue indefinitely. "Growth in the frontier economy gradually accelerated after 1750, reached a peak in the middle of the 20th century and has been slowing since," he writes.

There's not much any of us can do about macroeconomic factors—including the possibility of long-term stagnation—but businesses can certainly address working conditions. This includes offering a more flexible work structure and allowing employees to choose their tech tools (think BYOD) whenever possible.

Executives might also want to consider swapping the short-term gain of squeezing out a few extra dollars of profit with the long-term goal of building an organization that attracts and retains the brightest and the best.