Category Archives: employee stress

Vacation: All They Ever Wanted

If your organization is in the midst of planning its annual holiday party (and possibly stressing over what could happen during said party in this post-Harvey Weinstein era), then know this: Most employees would actually prefer more time off in lieu of a holiday celebration.

That’s according to a new survey from Randstad US, which finds that 90 percent of employees would choose extra vacation days (or a bonus) over a workplace holiday party.

Time off is a fraught subject here in the U.S., one of the few industrialized countries to not mandate some form of paid leave for employees. As we’ve previously noted, American workers take significantly less paid time off during the year than their European counterparts, much to the consternation of health and wellness experts who warn that too little time off can lead to burnout, stress and other health issues further down the line.

So just how much time off are Americans getting these days? The International Foundation of Employee Benefit Plans‘ just-released 2017 survey finds that, on average, salaried employees in the U.S. with paid-time-off plans receive 17 days after one year of service, 22 days after five years, 25 days after 10 years of service and 28 days after 20 years (this includes vacation, sick days, etc.). In terms of paid vacation days, salaried U.S. employees receive on average 12 days after one year of service, 16 days after five years, 19 days after 10 years and 23 days of vacation after 20 years of service.

Most employers let workers carry over their paid leave time from one year to the next, with 83 percent of employers allowing them to carry over some or all unused days in a PTO bank, while 74 percent allow hourly workers to carry over vacation days and 77 percent allow their salaried employees to do so. Approximately one in seven organizations let workers sell their vacation time back to the company for cash.

As for the upcoming holiday season, just about all (99 percent) of organizations that offer paid holiday time offer Thanksgiving Day as a paid holiday and 75 percent include the Friday after Thanksgiving as well. Just  under half (45 percent) offer Christmas Eve off as a paid holiday, but practically all (99 percent) offer Christmas Day off as well as New Year’s Day. And for some lucky employees, 13 percent of organizations shut down their operations and offer a full paid week of  holiday leave between Christmas and New Year’s.

When Toxic Workers Attack

The jerk at work is at it again: Whether it’s snide comments he’s making about a co-worker, goofing off while colleagues race to make a deadline or cracking racist jokes in the office parking lot, his (or her) toxic behavior is costing your organization productivity, money and talent.

A big part of the reason why toxic employees can wreak havoc in the workplace is that most of their colleagues feel there’s little they can do to address the behavior. A survey of 1,000 full-time employees in the U.S. finds that more than half (53 percent) say they handle toxic employees by ignoring them, while only 24 percent confront these individuals directly.

Employees may feel there’s little recourse other than to ignore co-workers who are annoying or worse because they lack faith in management’s ability or willingness to address the problem: Although 18 percent of the survey respondents say they complain to management about a toxic colleague, 41 percent say management does nothing about the situation once it’s alerted.

“These results clearly show a lack of action on behalf of employees, certainly due in part to an absence of conversation and confrontation skills,” says Stacey Engle, executive vice president of Fierce Inc., which conducted the survey. “Company leaders need to ensure that all employees are empowered with the tools to address these toxic individuals in a productive and ultimately successful way.”

What defines a toxic employee? Fierce’s survey finds a majority of respondents citing negative attitude, followed by laziness. Over half of respondents (54 percent) believe a negative peer, manager or company leader are equally detrimental to an organization. Through their behavior these employees raise stress levels and decrease morale and productivity, with 10 percent more women than men reporting that toxic employees increase their likelihood to seek employment elsewhere.

So what should management and HR do when confronted with a toxic employee? Most survey respondents (67 percent) are unsure whether the person should be fired, while just over a quarter (27 percent) believing the person should be fired. The best approach is to assess the situation first and then provide coaching, workplace dynamics expert Amy Gallo wrote last year in the Harvard Business Review. Georgetown University Professor Christine Porath told Gallo that meeting with the employee and trying to determine the source of their poor behavior — personal struggles, frustrations with co-workers, job unhappiness — and suggest resources to help address the root of the problem.

Toxic employees are often unaware of their effect on the workplace, Porath said. Use concrete examples to help them understand the impact of their behavior and why they need to address it, and help them create a plan for doing so, she said.  “What do you expect them to change? Strive for clearly defined, measurable goals,” said Porath.  “You’re giving them the chance to have a more positive impact on people.”

 

Back From Vacation — And Stressed

That week in the Bahamas was everything you’d hoped it would be. And now it’s Monday, your first day back at the office — and life stinks.

If this scenario rings true to you (regardless of whether said vacation was in the Bahamas, Disney World or your own backyard), then take heart in knowing you’re hardly alone: Nearly two-thirds (62 percent) of 1,000 full-time U.S. workers polled by training and communications firm Fierce Inc. say they’re either more stressed or have the same level of stress upon returning to work after taking paid time off. The reasons why aren’t that surprising, with most respondents citing having to catch up on missed work, followed by having to readjust to “a work mindset” and needing to resolve major issues that arose while they were away.

Not all employees feel equally stressed, however, with only 14 percent of respondents who said they were “very satisfied” with their job feeling more stressed returning from vacation. Meanwhile, 38 percent of those who reported being unsatisfied with their jobs said they felt more stressed returning to work.

“The fact that returning to work is a stressful situation speaks volumes to the lack of support many employees feel both leading up to, and returning from, vacation,” says Stacey Engle, Fierce’s executive vice president of marketing.

Interestingly, while more than half of employees believe their managers support and encourage them to take time off, only 40 percent say the same of their co-workers. Once again, there’s a correlation between this factor and job satisfaction, with 57 percent of those unsatisfied with their current job saying no one encourages or supports them in taking paid time off, while just 18 percent of those who are very satisfied say the same. Lower-paid employees also report a lack of support, with 45 percent of those with annual household incomes of $50,000 or less saying no one encourages them to take a vacation. Meanwhile, less than 30 percent of employees who make $100,000 a year or more say no one encourages them to take time off.

Then there’s the perennial issue of under-vacationed Americans: Although a third of the Fierce survey respondents say they receive 20 or more vacation days each year, one in every five say they receive less than 10. Not surprisingly, younger and lower-paid workers tend to receive the least PTO days. By way of comparison, countries within the European Union require a minimum of four weeks (20 days) of paid leave for all workers, while a number of them(such as Germany and Switzerland) are even more generous.

Given that there is no national law requiring paid time off in the U.S., employees and HR need to keep the lines of communication open regarding the issue of vacation. As Fierce’s Engle says, “employees need to feel empowered to ask for what they need, and managers must be open to hearing concerns of these employees.”

Taking a Mental Health Timeout

Madalyn Parker could have said she had the flu. She could have said that a family situation came up.

Parker, a web developer and engineer at San Francisco-based Olark Live Chat, could have offered any number of reasons for why she wouldn’t be at work that day, or the following day. In fact, she probably could have gone without saying a word to anyone, aside from letting her supervisor know.

The truth, though, was that she felt she needed some time away to concentrate on her mental well-being. And she felt obliged to tell her colleagues as much, which she did in a now-viral email.

The message—complete with the subject line “Where’s Madalyn?”—advised the Olark team that Parker would be “taking today and tomorrow to focus on my mental health,” adding that she hoped to be back the following week, feeling refreshed and ready to give 100 percent to her job and to her co-workers.

“Mental health day” has long been a figure of speech that employees use (away from the office) when they aren’t necessarily physically ill, but take a sick day to mentally regroup and recharge their batteries.

But many workers probably wouldn’t dare use that term when they inform their manager or colleagues of their absence, for fear that this explanation would be met with raised eyebrows or worse.

This is why Parker’s honesty is so surprising. Her chief executive officer’s response, however, might be even more startling.

“I just wanted to personally thank you for sending emails like this,” Olark CEO Ben Congleton wrote to Parker the day after he received her initial note.

“Every time you do, I use it as a reminder of the importance of using sick days for mental health—I can’t believe this is not standard practice at all organizations.”

HRE has written quite a bit about the stigma that still surrounds mental-health issues in the workplace. We’ve also discussed at length the progress that’s been made in terms of understanding and accepting those issues, and the strides employers have taken to help employees manage their mental-health needs.

We might be a long way from mental health days becoming “standard practice” at all organizations. But Parker’s email—and Congleton’s reply—offer compelling signs that that stigma might truly be dissipating, and that more employers are giving real thought to the role that mental well-being plays in overall employee health.

“We are in a knowledge economy. Our jobs require us to execute at peak mental performance,” Congleton recently wrote for Medium. “When an athlete is injured they sit on the bench and recover. Let’s get rid of the idea that somehow the brain is different.”

No Break for the Burned Out

With the long Memorial Day weekend less than 24 hours away, where will you be staying as the unofficial start of summer gets underway?

For at least one-third of your employees, the answer is likely “at home.”

That’s according to a recent CareerBuilder survey of 3,215 employed U.S. adults, 33 percent of whom said they haven’t taken or don’t plan to take a vacation this year.

Not surprisingly, many workers say they could use a break, with 61 percent reporting that they are burned out in their current job, and 31 percent describing their work-related stress levels as “high” or “extremely high.”

The better news is that some of these overextended employees will still be able to find some time to get away this year. Sort of.

Among the remaining respondents who will be taking vacation sometime this year, three in 10 say they will still stay connected with work while on holiday. More specifically, 31 percent said they check work email while away, and 18 percent indicated that they would “check in” with work at least once during that time.

Workers feeling stressed out is far from a new phenomenon. And we’ve seen at least a handful of studies in recent years that have suggested many employees are leaving vacation days on the table each year, for a variety of reasons. The CareerBuilder survey, for instance, finds 36 percent of respondents saying they’ve come back from vacation with so much work to do that they wished they never left at all. Another 18 percent say taking vacation actually leaves them feeling more anguish over work.

The number of workers afraid of taking time off to recharge their batteries should be troubling.

Leaders within the organization—incidentally, the CareerBuilder poll sees senior management and vice presidents reporting the lowest stress levels of all workers—can set the tone for their teams, according to Rosemary Haefner, chief human resources officer at CareerBuilder.

“If you’re a boss, it’s important that you role model how to take a vacation,” said Haefner, in a statement.

“If you’re prone to answering every email and phone call that comes through on your own vacation time, consider the example you’re setting for your team members. You need to set up an automated response email, and only respond to absolutely urgent emails while you’re away,” she continues.

“Direct all calls to an assistant or colleague at the office. Show your employees that vacation time matters to you and to your company and its culture.”

This Just In: Change is Awful

The saying goes that “change is inevitable.” But when it comes to the workplace, Americans would rather have none of it, according to the results of a brand-new survey from the American Psychological Association.

Employees in the U.S. who’ve been affected by change at work are more likely to report chronic work stress, less likely to trust their employer and more likely to say they plan to leave the organization within the next year compared to those who haven’t been affected by organizational change, according to the APA’s 2017 Work and Well-Being Survey, which is based on responses from 1,500 U.S. adults and was conducted on behalf of the APA by Harris Poll in March.

Half of American workers report having been affected by organizational change within the last year, are currently being affected by such change or expect to be affected by it within the next year, the survey finds. Workers experiencing recent or current change were more than twice as likely to report chronic work stress compared with employees who reported no recent, current or anticipated change (55 percent vs. 22 percent), and more than four times as likely to report experiencing physical health symptoms at work (34 percent vs. 8 percent).

Workers reporting recent or current change also were much more likely than other respondents to say they experienced work/life conflict and felt cynical and negative toward others during the workday (35 percent vs. 11 percent) and ate or smoked more during the workday than they did outside of work (29 percent vs. 8 percent).

There’s plenty more in the survey results, much of it dispiriting and depressing. The upshot seems to be that too many U.S. workplaces appear to be afflicted with leaders who’ve adopted a “do as I say, not as I do” mentality. However, this article that ran in McKinsey Quarterly a number of years ago (published by the consulting powerhouse McKinsey) offers some interesting food for thought that holds true today. One of its important points, as you may already know, is that people need to understand the point of change–why something is being changed, their role in helping the change succeed and how all of it will lead to better conditions for both themselves and the larger organization. The theme is that while change may be inevitable, the negative side effects shouldn’t be and don’t have to be.

 

Studying Sleep at Goodyear

According to Dr. Brent Pawlecki, the goal of his Thursday morning presentation here at Human Resource Executive‘s Health & Benefits Leadership Conference (held April 19 – 21 at the Aria Resort & Casino in Las Vegas) was to “make the case for why sleep is important” to employees’ health.

Making that case was also part of his plan when he took over as chief health officer at Akron, Ohio-based Goodyear Tire and Rubber Co. six years ago.

At the time, the company has begun investing more in the health of its 69,000 employees around the world. Pawlecki was brought in to “build a culture of health” at the organization. When he took the job in 2011, he was charged with helping Goodyear to better define its overall healthy strategy.

“We said, we’re a global company, with well over 20,000 U.S.-based employees,” says Pawlecki. “We need to build a strong foundation of healthy employees here in the U.S.”

Part of that building process was addressing the impact of sleep, or the lack thereof, on Goodyear employees. Why study sleep?

“I was at a conference where I attended a presentation on how sleep affects workers,” says Pawlecki. “And I thought that, if we can get our employees thinking and talking about sleep issues—which could be caused by or contributing to underlying health issues— then maybe we can get them to focus on those larger issues.”

Enter Big Health, the San Francisco-based provider of the Sleepio sleep health app.

Sharing the stage with Pawlecki was Jenna Carl, medical director at Big Health. She talked about the “hidden nature” of behavioral health problems, and how tackling sleep issues might “offer a gateway to solving mental health problems” and subsequently creating healthier and happier workers.

Those suffering from insomnia, for instance, often find themselves more easily irritated and more sensitive to stress, she says.

“Insomnia also affects the frontal cortex—the CEO of the brain—which is responsible for decision making,” continues Carl. “And, behaviorally, those with sleep problems fall into a vicious cycle. They start worrying about not sleeping, and/or might start using more caffeine or alcohol, which actually have a negative impact on the ability to sleep.”

Naturally, employees trying to work their way through such problems are going to be less than their best while on the job. Pawlecki and Goodyear were acutely aware of this reality when bringing in Big Health to help conduct a sleep awareness campaign, “designed to engage good and poor sleepers,” says Carl.

The campaign began with encouraging employees to take a sleep test, the results of which led to creating personalized plans for employees who took part.

In getting employees to participate, “it’s important to know your employee population in order to know how to reach them,” says Carl.

Goodyear, for example, has 24,000 U.S. employees spread across plants and retail locations. Roughly 60 percent of these associates have no company email address, says Pawlecki.

As such, the initial sleep awareness campaign included home mailers and in-person communications in the form of posters and animated videos geared toward these workers, as well as providing intranet articles and sending emails detailing the campaign to those with Goodyear email accounts.

Overall, the campaign netted 2,798 employees who completed the sleep test, the majority of whom suffered from poor sleep, says Carl, adding that about one third of these workers could meet the clinical criteria for insomnia, while around half were experiencing less-than-optimal sleep. Plant workers, she says, struggled the most.

These plant employees also reported that poor sleep impacted their productivity close to 28 percent of the time, with retail workers saying that sleep affects their productivity 23 percent of the time. Office workers said that inadequate rest took a toll on their work 21 percent of the time.

“This is a pretty significant impact,” says Carl, adding that Goodyear employees who used the Sleepio app and underwent cognitive therapy reported getting an additional five hours of sleep per week after using the application. Those same workers also saw their stress reduced by 54 percent, and experienced a 35 percent drop in anxiety.

“These are obviously big improvements,” says Carl, noting that these workers also reported productivity improvements in addition to improving their overall mental health.

“And that’s just from getting better sleep.”

Homing in on Behavioral Health

Just over two years ago, we posted a piece on this site highlighting findings from a Disability Management Employer Coalition study on behavioral health in the workplace.

The DMEC’s research painted what HRE described at the time as a “somewhat incongruous picture.” For example, more than 60 percent of the 314 employers polled said the stigma surrounding mental health issues at work had either stayed the same or gotten worse in the past two years. On the other hand, 37 percent of those same companies said that management had “become more open” about assessing behavioral health in that time. In 2012, 25 percent of respondents said the same, according to DMEC.

Here we are in 2017, and the findings of a new Willis Towers Watson survey suggest that the picture is starting to come into focus for employers, the overwhelming majority of which say they plan to keep upping their efforts to address mental health issues among the workforce.

The firm’s 2017 Behavioral Health Study, which polled 314 U.S. employers, finds 88 percent of respondents saying behavioral health is an important priority for their organizations over the next three years.

More specifically, 63 percent count locating more timely and effective treatment of behavioral health issues as an area of primary concern in that same span. Sixty-one percent said the same about integrating behavioral health case management with medical and disability case management. In addition, 56 percent said their organizations are concentrating on providing better support for complex behavioral health conditions, and 52 percent of employers are looking to expand access to care for mental health issues between now and the year 2020.

Beyond increasing and improving the level of care received by those with behavioral health issues, the survey also found that organizations intend to address the root causes of these issues. More than one third of respondents (36 percent) say they have already addressed and taken steps to reduce stress and improve resiliency, while 47 percent are planning or considering action designed to do so over the next three years. Twenty-eight percent currently provide educational programs that touch on the warning signs of behavioral health issues or distress, and 41 percent are planning or considering such programs.

These employers are also showing more interest in mobile apps to help employees manage behavioral health needs, according to Willis Towers Watson. The survey finds the percentage of companies including mobile applications in their service offerings on the way up. For instance, 11 percent of those surveyed already offer stress reduction or resiliency apps; a number that is expected to increase to 38 percent within three years, the study finds. And, while just 7 percent provide apps designed to help curb anxiety, 31 percent of respondents said they plan to offer such applications between now and 2020.

However they plan to reach workers with mental health needs, “employers are concerned about behavioral health issues because of the impact on costs, employee health and productivity, and workplace safety,” says Julie Stone, a national healthcare practice leader at Willis Towers Watson, in a statement.

“The seriousness of the issues—both for employers and employees—has led to a deeper understanding of the problem and greater resolve to take action.”

Employers are now more committed than ever, says Stone, to “improving access to treatment, providing employees with better coordination of care across various health programs and reducing the stigma that could be associated with behavioral health through educational programs.”

Millennials on the Move?

For years, employers have been led to believe that millennial workers are habitual job-hoppers with one eye always on the door.

That perception—if it was ever accurate in the first place—might be increasingly off the mark.

Consider the 2017 Millennial Survey conducted by Deloitte. In a poll of roughly 8,000 millennial-age workers from 30 countries, 38 percent of respondents said they would leave their jobs within two years if given the opportunity. That number stood at 44 percent when Deloitte carried out the same survey last year. Additionally, 31 percent anticipate staying in their present roles beyond five years, compared to the 27 percent who said as much in 2016.

Some of the circumstances driving Generation Y to seek more stability in the workplace, it turns out, have little to do with work. For example, the survey sees the effects of terror attacks in Europe, the United Kingdom’s withdrawal from the European Union and—no surprise—a brutally contentious political climate in the United States leading millennials to cling more closely to the security of their current jobs.

Such matters are the main source of anxiety among millennials in mature markets such as France, Germany and the U.S. Meanwhile, a majority of Gen Y workers (58 percent) in emerging markets like Argentina, Brazil and India see crime and corruption as an even bigger threat, with 50 percent saying the same about hunger/healthcare/inequality.

“Millennials, especially those in mature European economies, have serious concerns about the directions in which their countries are going,” according to an executive summary of the findings. “They are particularly concerned about uncertainty arising from conflict, as well as other issues that include crime, corruption and unemployment.”

Indeed, the specter of unemployment lingers from past surveys, according to Deloitte, as this year’s poll finds 25 percent of millennials fearing the prospect of being out of work.

“Having lived through the ‘economic meltdown’ that began in 2008, and with high levels of youth unemployment continuing to be a feature of many economies, it is natural that millennials will continue to be concerned about the job market,” according to Deloitte.

Taken together, these factors are conspiring to create a real sense of fear among millennials, many of whom fret for their futures. In mature markets, for instance, just 36 percent of millennials predict they will be financially better off than their parents. Only 31 percent feel they’ll ultimately be happier.

“This pessimism is a reflection of how millennials’ personal concerns have shifted,” says Punit Renjen, Deloitte’s global CEO, in a statement. “Four years ago, climate change and resource scarcity were among millennials’ top concerns. This year, crime, corruption, war and political tensions are weighing on the minds of young professionals, which impacts both their personal and professional outlooks.”

Still, while many millennial workers question their ability to affect significant societal change on their own, these same employees feel they can make a difference with their employer’s help. The good news is that the corporate world is helping them do just that, with more than half of the millennials polled saying they are able to contribute to charities and worthwhile causes in their workplaces.

Of course, the organization also wins when employees get involved in such efforts.

“The survey’s findings suggest those given such opportunities show a greater level of loyalty to their employers, which is consistent with the connection we saw last year between loyalty and a company’s sense of purpose,” according to Jim Moffatt, Deloitte global consulting CEO.

“But, we are also seeing that purpose has benefits beyond retention. Those who have a chance to contribute are less pessimistic about their countries’ general social [and] political situations, and have a more positive opinion of business behavior.”

 

Better Boss: Trump or Clinton?

The U.S. presidential election may not be over yet (unfortunately), but Hillary Clinton has already won. The boss contest, that is: According to a new CareerBuilder survey, 57 percent of workers say they’d prefer to work for the former Secretary of State, while 43 percent say they’d rather work for Donald Trump.

Donald Trump was a tough boss on NBC's "The Apprentice" (photo by Gage Skidmore)
Donald Trump was a tough boss on NBC’s “The Apprentice” (photo by Gage Skidmore)

A gender gap exists here, as it does in the general electorate, with 62 percent of women favoring Clinton. Men were evenly split between Clinton and Trump. Clinton was also the preferred boss for African American (87 percent), Hispanic (79 percent) and Asian (78 percent) professionals.

The survey, which queried 3,133 full-time workers over the age of 18, also finds that manufacturing workers stood out as the only industry preferring Trump as workplace leader, with 55 percent of them favoring him over Clinton. The next closest was transportation workers, who favored working for Clinton by only four points (52 percent to 48 percent). Support for Clinton as boss was strongest from workers in healthcare (63 percent to 37 percent) and financial services (60 percent to 40 percent — somebody better tell Bernie Sanders).

Regardless of whether their campaigns put them in the Oval Office or back in the private sector, Clinton and Trump have already had a major impact on the U.S. workplace. An American Psychological Association survey finds that one in four employees have been negatively affected by conversations about the election with co-workers. Twenty-eight percent of workers younger than 34 said these conversations left them feeling “stressed out.”  Twice as many men as women reported that the political talk was making them upset enough to be less productive. Until this endless political season is over (and will be shortly), it’s probably best to follow a few rules of engagement for political discussions at work.