Low wages, annoying co-workers stress out workers

If you sit in your office with a tension headache and white knuckles because of low pay, annoying co-workers and a heavy workload, you can take solace in this: You are not alone.

Seventy-three per cent of US workers are stressed by at least one thing at work, according to a telephone survey of 898 employed adults conducted by Harris Interactive on behalf of Everest College, a system of for-profit colleges that focuses on career and vocational training.

Low wages, identified by 11% of workers, was chosen as the most stressful aspect of work. The stress is causing damage to employers as well as employees, according to John Swartz, Everest College’s regional director of career services.

“You start looking at things like negative turnover and then, of course, the potential large costs to the employer, so at the end of the day everybody loses,” Swartz said. “It’s not just impacting the employee, it’s impacting the employer.”

Other top stressors included:

  • Annoying co-workers (named by 10% of respondents).

  • Commuting (9%).

  • Unreasonable workload (9%).

  • Working in a job that is not their chosen career (8%).

Swartz said a significant amount of workforce unhappiness can be traced to workers’ dissatisfaction with the direction of their career. He said developing relevant skills and working at a job you enjoy can lead to greater satisfaction with pay and career direction.

“As long as you have the skills and as long as you are working in an industry that’s in demand, there are going to be opportunities,” Swartz said. “As long as people are constantly re-evaluating their skill set and trending in that direction, they’re always going to be marketable.”

Women are more frustrated than men with their pay and the work they are doing, according to the survey. Low wages was identified as the top stressor by 14% of women compared with 8% of men. Eleven per cent of women and 5% of men said their top stressor was working in a job that is not in their chosen career.

The link between career path and happiness on the job also was evident in a recent survey by temporary accounting, finance and bookkeeping staffing service Accountemps. Asked how important knowing their potential career path is to their overall job satisfaction, 54% of workers said “very important” and 31% said “somewhat important.”
The Everest survey also broke out responses by education level. Those with a high school diploma or less said low pay (14%) and annoying co-workers (12%) were the most stressful things about work. College graduates ranked unreasonable workload (13%) and low pay (11%) as top stressors.

One stressor that abated significantly in the second annual survey was fear of job loss. In 2011, 9% of workers rated fear of being fired or laid off as their top concern, compared with 4% of workers in 2012.

But even if job security increases and unemployment were to decrease, Swartz said, skill development would remain vital to continued career happiness.

“We can’t take our foot off the gas,” he said. “We have to continue to look at ourselves and reinvent when needed to make sure we’re really prepared for the future.”

Ken Tysiac ( is a CGMA Magazine senior editor.