Many American workers plan to change jobs in coming year

October 17, 2021

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Many American workers plan to change jobs in coming year

A brilliant in-depth look at American blue-collar workers in the NY Times examines the woes and the sharpening divisions within the ranks of the majority of American employees. Much of what the author wrote about is confirmed by the latest employment survey by the American Psychological Association (Alicia and I are members). The two should be read together.

As the Times piece points out, the pandemic grinds on through its second year and many American workers are feeling the pressure. The APA survey found a substantial percent of them say they intend to leave their jobs within a year.

Work stress related to low salaries, long hours and a lack of opportunity for growth and advancement has increased since the start of the pandemic. More than 4 in 10 workers told the researchers they plan to switch jobs in the coming year, which could impact many industries already facing labor shortages, particularly the hospitality and healthcare sectors.

APA’s 2021 Work and Well-being survey was conducted among more than 1,500 U.S. employees between July 26 and August 4, 2021.

Nearly 6 in 10 (59%) reported experiencing negative impacts of work-related stress.  Low salaries (56%, up from 49% in 2019), long hours (54%, up from 46%) and lack of opportunity for growth or advancement (52%, up from 44%) were most commonly reported as having a very or somewhat significant impact on stress levels at work, according to the poll.

More than 2 in 5 employees (44%) said that they intend to seek employment outside of their company or organization in the next year, up from around 1 in 3 (32%) in 2019. (APA did not conduct a similar survey in 2020.) But among some marginalized communities, the numbers were even more striking – 58% of Hispanic employees, 57% of Black employees, 56% of LGBTQ+ employees and 63% of workers with disabilities said that they intend to seek a job with another employer in the next year.

What the researchers say: “Stress at work can have broad negative consequences for employers and employees alike, including loss of productivity, high turnover, and repercussions for the employee’s physical and emotional health,” said the APA’s chief executive officer. “A workplace that pays attention to worker well-being is better positioned to recruit and retain engaged and productive staff.”

Nearly 6 in 10 workers (59%) said that they had experienced negative impacts of work-related stress in the prior month including a lack of interest, motivation or energy (26%), difficulty focusing (21%) or a lack of effort at work (19%). More than two-thirds of front-line workers (67%) reported experiencing negative impacts of work-related stress and more than 1 in 3 (35%) said they had felt fed up at work quite frequently or more often in the past 30 days.

Workers who perform manual labor or work in customer service, sales or entertainment were more likely than those who work in desk jobs to say they had experienced symptoms of physical fatigue (51% and 53% vs. 38%, respectively), cognitive weariness (41% and 44% vs. 29%) and emotional exhaustion (41% and 40% vs. 25%) at work quite frequently or more often in the past 30 days.

There are steps that employers can take to improve employee well-being and possibly reduce turnover. The vast majority of employees (87%) said they thought actions from their employer would help their mental health, including flexible hours (34%), encouraging employees to take care of their health (32%), encouraging employees to use paid time off (30%) and encouraging breaks during the workday (30%).

“During the pandemic, many employers switched to remote work where possible, thus providing greater flexibility for their employees,” the researchers said. “Policies that promote flexible hours and breaks during the workday and provide other forms of support for employees to take care of themselves may also help employers retain staff in competitive markets.”

To achieve a psychologically healthy workplace, women were more likely than men to say employers should pay employees fairly (50% vs. 43%) and allow flexibility (47% vs. 36%). Women were less likely than men to say they receive adequate monetary compensation for their contributions at work (65% vs. 74%), according to the survey.

If they could only have one extra perk from their employer, one third of employees (33%) said they want more money, followed by more flexibility (14%), more time off (13%) or more benefits (12%). 1 in 10 (10%) said more meaningful work was their top priority.

So, what? Even before the pandemic, work stress was increasing at an unsustainable pace—by 70% every four years and 200% since 2010. It is a major cause of mental ill-health and many physical problems as well (heart disease, a number of cancers and dementia have all been shown to be caused by undue work stress).

The pandemic has made the situation worse, but the main cause was, and is, inequality together with technology and the dehumanization of work. Many of the jobs that gave people status and a comfortable lifestyle have simply vanished.

We are genetically wired to seek status through work—whether that’s through hunting a gnu on the savannah, producing a car, or solving a law client’s problem. The loss, or the threat of loss, of that status is a huge stressor.

For more on work stress click here.

Dr Bob Murray

Bob Murray, MBA, PhD (Clinical Psychology), is an internationally recognised expert in strategy, leadership, influencing, human motivation and behavioural change.

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