Workplace stress on the rise, but not equally: Many men don’t feel supported in the workplace

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Australians this year are more likely to report themselves feeling stressed and anxious, according to a study released today by the Australian Psychological Society.

Across of a range of measures including stress, distress and anxiety, the number of Australians suffering from such afflictions rose in 2013.

Workplaces were a significant source of this stress, with many workers saying they did not feel supported in the workplace.

Men were more likely to say this was the case than women, which surprised APS executive director Professor Lyn Littlefield.

“Women say they get better support from their managers, and I did wonder what this was about,” she told SmartCompany. “I know in my organisation, women come to speak to me more regularly than men about not coping, so I give them support. I wonder if managers still see women as needing more support.”

Almost three in five (57%) of working women surveyed said their employer valued their work contribution and cared about their wellbeing at work, compared to 47% of men. And 67% of working women reported their immediate managers were available to help them when they needed support, compared to 53% of men.

Working women were also significantly more likely than men to say their employers were supportive of family matters (70% of women said this, compared to 61% of men).

While both men and women were more likely to report high levels of stress this year, there was a significant gender difference within the results when it came to causes of stress.

For women, the leading cause of stress was family issues. For men, the leading cause of stress was financial concerns.

Littlefield says financial concerns were the main reason why stress levels rose this year.

“I think people are becoming a lot more aware of our financial environment,” she says. “Companies are closing down, people are getting redundancies, and for men especially, that’s a huge cause of stress.”

Young people were also more likely to be stressed than older people. As a group, the unemployed had the highest levels of stress, while the retired had the lowest.

But Littlefield says it’s unlikely to be retirement alone that means older people are less stressed and anxious.

“When you’re younger, you have your whole life ahead,” she says. “You’re hopeful and you have expectations. As you get older, your expectations align with the possibilities of what’s achievable. That alignment of expectations with reality means you adapt to your circumstances, and become less anxious as a result.”

The survey’s silver lining was that one in two workers said their employer values their contribution, one in five reported sufficient opportunities for learning and professional development, while four in five said they were clear about what was expected of them.

And in good news for our retailers, though perhaps bad news for everyone else, Australians are turning to retail therapy to help them cope. The proportion of Australians trawling a shopping mall to relieve their stress increased from 47% to 60% between 2011 and 2013. The most popular stress relief methods were watching television, listening to music, and talking with family and friends.

There are huge rewards for businesses that take care of their employee’s emotional wellbeing, and it isn’t hard to do, says Littlefield.

“Those in the workplace who had the highest levels of wellbeing and lower levels of stress and distress were people who felt supported at work, had strong leadership, clear role definition, felt their safety was looked after, that their employer cared for their mental and physical health and that they received adequate feedback and recognition,” she says. “This data can help businesses identify actions that will lead to positive change.”

Top causes of stress in the workplace

1)      A lack of supportive managers and colleagues

2)      Insufficient feedback – people say they are trying their hardest but not sure of how they’re going

3)      A low level of control over their work

4)      Change managed badly

Source: Australian Psychical Society: Stress and Wellbeing in Australia in 2013 – A state of the nation survey. Sample size – 1500

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Myriam Robin is a reporter for SmartCompany and its sister site LeadingCompany. She has degrees in economics, international studies and journalism. She likes writing about businesses taking risks and doing new things.

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