By Melissa J. Anderson

A new poll  [PDF] by Everest College and Harris Interactive has revealed what many already knew – workplace stress is pervasive. John Swartz, regional director of career services at Everest College, said, “With ongoing uncertainty gripping the job market and economy, it’s only natural that job stress continues to be a major issue.”

According to the survey of almost 900 adults in the US, three quarters (73 percent) said they were “stressed out by at least one thing at work.” It seems that compensation was the number one stressor this year, followed by “annoying coworkers,” “commuting,” “unreasonable workload,” and “working in a job that is not their chosen career.”

At the same time, the study showed, only four percent said they were worried about being fired or laid off, a decrease from nine percent last year. Respondents also named “poor work life balance,” “lack of opportunity for advancement,” and “the boss” as other causes for stress.

Is there anything employers can do to ease these stressors in order to get the most from their high performers?

Employer Influence

While some of the areas within the study are external to employers, there are several career stressors that companies can influence – like coworker relations, commute times, work life balance, advancement opportunities, management, and of course, compensation.

And that’s something they should consider.

Swartz said, “Anxiety among employees reduces productivity, lessens job satisfaction, lowers morale and has a negative impact on health. Workplace stress costs U.S. employers billions, and it’s critical that both employer and employee take action to reduce this epidemic.”

For example, implementing flexible working strategies, telecommuting, or time shifting policies could change workplace stress for many of those polled. By enabling people to work when and where they can be most productive, companies could ease challenges caused by commute times and work life balance, as well as provide a path to career advancement that could be unavailable to people who can not work a regular nine-to-five in the office.

In fact, the study showed that women than men named low pay and not working in their chosen career as key job stressors – this could be related to so-called mommy-tracking or having taken a career-time out for child care and not being able to re-enter their chosen line of work. Flex work opportunities could provide a path to overcome these challenges.

Swartz added, “Americans are more focused than ever on taking charge of their career and not taking their jobs for granted,” Swartz said. “To reduce job stress, the most critical component is working in a career of your own choosing. If you’re frustrated about your career and want to improve your situation long-term, make a plan for success.”

Survey Comparisons

The poll, which was weighted by age, sex, geographic region, and race to align with proportions in the US population, also revealed some interesting comparisons in the data.

For example, more people this year (26 percent) than last year (21 percent) said “nothing” stresses them out about their jobs. That’s good news, and could represent the slow movement away from employment uncertainty posed by the recent recession.

The study also showed that those making more money (with a household income over $100,000) tended to be less stressed about their jobs. Respondents who said “nothing” stresses them out at work were more highly concentrated in this category (37 percent).

Finally the researchers noted regional differences in stressors. For example, respondents in the Northeast were more likely than those in the South to name their workload as the most stressful part of their work (14 percent versus seven percent). People working in the West were more likely than those in the Midwest to say they were most stressed out by not working in their chosen career (11 percent versus four percent).

The regional variations, as well as gender-based ones, reveal that companies need to develop individualized talent management strategies based on each employees unique skills and career goals. By helping employees reach their full potential, employers can reduce stress and increase productivity in their workforces.