Seventy-five percent of U.S. employers say stress is their number one workplace health concern

Disconnect between employers and employees on causes of stress could undermine efforts to address the problem

ARLINGTON, Va., June 29, 2016 (GLOBE NEWSWIRE) -- Three-fourths (75%) of U.S. employers ranked stress as their top health and productivity concern, but employers and employees disagreed on its causes, according to surveys by Willis Towers Watson (NASDAQ:WLTW). Employers and employees had just one factor in common in their top three choices: inadequate staffing, which employees ranked number one and employers ranked number two. Opinions diverged after that — on some points, dramatically.

These findings are based on responses from 487 U.S. employers in Willis Towers Watson’s 2015/2016 Global Staying@Work Survey and more than 5,000 U.S. employees in Willis Towers Watson’s 2015/2016 Global Benefits Attitudes Survey.

Comparing the survey results further revealed that employer picks for top stressors tended to fall into categories of large organizational issues, such as change and ubiquitous technology connections which can make employees feel that they are always on the job. Employees pointed more directly to specific elements of their personal work experience. For example, employees cited low pay as a leading cause of their stress; employers ranked it 11th on a 12-item list. Employees also ranked organization culture — including a lack of teamwork and a tendency to avoid accountability — third on their stress list, while employers ranked it last. Conversely, employers identified insufficient work/life balance as the top stressor for workers, while employees ranked it sixth.

“To address workplace stress, employers first need to understand its root cause from their employees’ point of view,” said Steve Nyce, senior economist at Willis Towers Watson. “Those who base their efforts on misguided assumptions risk trying to solve the wrong problems, and could end up wasting money and alienating employees. A good place for employers to start is by asking employees directly what’s causing their stress and how they can help.”

“Our research shows that stress has multiple causes, both workplace and personal,” added Nyce. “In the workplace, employers likely will find that most workplace stressors can be addressed by local management — for example, staffing issues, lack of clearly defined roles and inequities in workloads.”

Employers and employees disagree on major causes of stress

An infographic accompanying this announcement is available at:

“Even with workplace improvements that support better health and productivity, the demands of work and life will always cause some stress for some employees,” said Shelly Wolff, senior health care consultant at Willis Towers Watson. “Employers can support by helping them develop skills that better equip them to manage the unhealthy effects of stress, when needed.”

Other notable survey findings include:

  • While most employees want to reduce stress and improve their health, nearly half don’t want their employer to have access to their personal health information.
  • Almost one-third “don’t trust” their employer when it comes to their health and well-being.
  • Employees tend to choose one of two options to deal with their stress: 1) connecting with friends, family members and colleagues or 2) pursuing activities such as exercise, stress-reduction techniques or sedentary activities including indulging in comfort foods or watching TV.
  • Just one in five employees seek external help from a professional or uses such services provided by their employer.

About the surveys

The 2015/2016 Willis Towers Watson Staying@Work Survey was completed between May and July 2015 in North America, Latin America, Europe, Middle East and Asia by 1,669 employers. The survey captures details on each organization’s health and well-being strategy and programs in their respective local markets. Additionally, 42 multinational companies responded to a complementary survey, capturing the perspective of the global headquarters. In total, the data include responses from 34 countries/markets. The countries with the most number of responses are: the U.S., 487; Mexico, 118; Canada, 111; Philippines, 91; Indonesia, 66; and China, 65. Seventy-three percent of respondents operate in multiple countries and respondents are in all major industry sectors.  

The 2015 Willis Towers Watson Global Benefits Attitudes Survey examines employees’ attitudes toward their health and retirement benefits. Conducted in 19 economies between June and September 2015, the survey was completed by 30,000 employees, including more than 5,000 in the U.S., representing all job levels and major industry sectors. The margin of error for the total sample is ± 1.3%.

About Willis Towers Watson

Willis Towers Watson (NASDAQ:WLTW) is a leading global advisory, broking and solutions company that helps clients around the world turn risk into a path for growth. With roots dating to 1828, Willis Towers Watson has 39,000 employees in more than 120 countries. We design and deliver solutions that manage risk, optimize benefits, cultivate talent and expand the power of capital to protect and strengthen institutions and individuals. Our unique perspective allows us to see the critical intersections between talent, assets and ideas — the dynamic formula that drives business performance. Together, we unlock potential. Learn more at


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