What’s Your Biggest Stress at Work?

A new survey finds more than three-quarters of Americans are stressed by something at work. What ranks highest on their list of frustrations?

Low pay was the biggest source of stress, followed by commuting, an unreasonable workload and fear of being fired or laid off, according to Everest College, a for-profit institution based in Santa Ana, CA, which conducted the survey of 1,000 adults with Harris Interactive. The poll asked respondents to choose just one of their greatest pet peeves among 12 different job stresses.


“If you look at low pay, commuting, being fired or laid off as top concerns, people are still in survival mode and they are going to stick it out with the jobs they have today,” says Wendy Cullen, vice president of employer development for Everest.


It’s not surprising that low pay ranked at the top. The Labor Department’s March employment report, released last week, shows average hourly earnings remained flat for the fourth time in five months. The Wall Street Journal notes that the 1 percent annualized growth during that period is the weakest stretch in 25 years, leading one economist to call this a “wage-less” recovery. It’s likely to continue as long as unemployment remains high.

Moreover, the non-profit Wider Opportunities for Women commissioned a new study that looks at how much workers need to earn to grasp at middle-class status. A single worker needs a salary of $30,012 a year — or just above $14 an hour — to cover basic expenses and save for retirement and emergencies, according to a New York Times story on the study. That’s nearly three times the 2010 national poverty level of $10,830 for a single person, and almost twice the federal minimum wage of $7.25 an hour.

A family with two working parents and two young children needs to earn $67,920 a year, or about $16 an hour per worker to cover basic expenses and save for retirement, emergencies and their children’s college education, the study estimates. That compares with the national poverty level of $22,050 for a family of four.

Among the other work stresses in the Everest survey, annoying coworkers ranked in the middle, followed by the boss, poor work-life balance and lack of opportunity for advancement. “Work-life balance was such a buzz word before the recession – but it’s not at the top of the priority list anymore,” says Cullen.

Baby boomers and the youngest workers were most concerned about low pay, while college graduates worried most about potential layoffs. Married people were less stressed than singles, possibly because their households have two incomes.

What’s your biggest stress at work? How do you deal with it?

Laura Rowley