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Are Smarter Employees More Stressed-and What Can You Do About It?

July 22nd, 2011 ::

By Rieva Lesonsky

Does your business rely on “knowledge workers”—white-collar employees who work with data, words or information all day? If so, your staff may be suffering from greater-than-average stress on the job, which could be hurting your company’s productivity and putting its future at risk.

Findings from GfK Custom Research North America’s GfK U.S. Employee Engagement Benchmark 2011 Survey found both good news and bad news about highly educated employees. First, the good:

Educated employees are more likely to be highly engaged with their jobs. In North America, employees with a PhD were the most engaged (38 percent highly engaged), while those employees who had less than a high school education were the least engaged with their jobs (only 25 percent highly engaged).

Now, the bad news: The same employees with a PhD — which include “knowledge workers” and “the creative class” — reported the highest levels of worry about job security (30 percent), having enough resources to do their jobs effectively (30 percent), stress at work (29 percent), struggling to create work-life balance (33 percent), and pressure to work long hours (30 percent).

Employees with master’s degrees were similarly more stressed than those with less education. In fact, even more of those with a master’s degree than with a PhD said they frequently worry about stress (39 percent) and work-life balance (25 percent).

“Greater education opens the door to more opportunities in the job market, but with that comes higher levels of responsibility and pressure to deliver results,” said Thomas Hartley, vice president of GfK Customer Loyalty and Employee Engagement. “Engaged employees are a companies’ most valuable asset, and addressing the pressures that more educated employees face is crucial to keeping them engaged and not seeking employment elsewhere.”

Not surprisingly, the survey found employees who were less engaged were more likely to leave their jobs voluntarily turnover. However, one surprising finding was that voluntary turnover is rising in professional and business services–despite high engagement among these employees.  “The reason appears to be fallout from decisions made by employees in this knowledge-intensive sector during the recession,” the authors theorize. With nearly half of employees in professional and business services saying they were forced to change life plans during the recession, they may be making job changes to “bring their life back on track” to the goals they had prior to the recession.

As a small business owner, you should be close enough with your employees to know if any of them are facing this situation. To encourage them to stay, think about how you could help them get their lives back on track, whether it’s offering them new training and career education opportunities, providing tools such as flextime to help them with work/life balance, or offering a promotion or new responsibilities.

There’s also some good news for small businesses overall: Employees of small companies report being far more engaged (37 percent highly engaged) than those at large companies (where just 23 percent are highly engaged). Clearly, a small, close-knit workplace is something employees value—so take steps to make sure your educated employees know that you care.

Image by Flickr user gadgetdude (Creative Commons)




The views expressed here are the author's alone and not those of Network Solutions or its partners.

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