When it comes to Americans’ top stressors, the workplace is second only to concerns about money. This finding came from a 2015 poll put forth by the American Psychological Association. According to the report, despite stress being at a seven-year low in 2014, a majority of adults (60 percent) that year reported struggling with work-related anxiety.1
That said, not all job-related blues are created equal. According to a 2014 study of more than 200,000 employees, industries that demand frequent interaction with the public while offering few outlets for physical activity have the highest rate of depression. This was the conclusion researchers came to after sifting through medical claims data for employees from western Pennsylvania for the years 2002-2005.2
Topping the list with the most reports of depression was the public transportation industry at 16 percent of workers–more than twice the national average of 7.6 percent.3
Lori Guiver has worked for Salt Lake’s Utah Transit Authority for four years, fielding calls from customers and generally working on the backend making sure all is running smoothly. During that time, she said she’s observed a constant stream of entitlement among commuters.
“They feel like because they pay taxes, the driver or conductor works for them,” she told Foundations Recovery Network in this exclusive interview. “And while that’s sort of true, it’s important to keep in mind that the driver works for the person running for the bus and the person already on the bus running late.” The result, she says, is a pervasive sense among public transportation employees that they can never win.
The experience of working with entitled customers isn’t unique to public transportation. However, unlike a person working in, say, retail or food service, a bus driver is required to juggle all those grievances in the middle of traffic.
“You may have three or 60 people on a bus with all those collective feelings and frustrations, and you’re driving with a bunch of cars out on the road, maybe with snow and rain,” Guiver said.
Add to that the 15-hour days the split-shift schedule demands of many drivers and, Guiver said, the job is quick to take its toll.
Not far behind public transportation in the list of industries with the highest rates of depression is healthcare, with a rate of 14.6 percent.
For physicians, work-related stress goes beyond the daily grind of working with a large swath of the public in small, windowless rooms. Burnout is on the rise among America’s doctors, who increasingly find themselves working with computer screens and patient records more than the patients themselves.
Westin Hatch is a consultant for Deloitte Digital. His work with healthcare professionals of a wide variety has given him a bird’s eye view of this trend. The way he sees it, the lifestyle of a physician had already been eroding for decades when the Affordable Care Act came along and dumped even more work in the form of increased record-keeping in the laps of doctors everywhere.
“These days, doctors walk in and go straight to the computer and say ‘Hi’ to you out of the side of their mouth,” he said in an interview with Foundations Recovery Network. “There’s less human interaction.” The result is clear: Between 2011 and 2014 alone, the percentage of physicians exhibiting at least one symptom of professional burnout swelled from 45 percent to 54 percent.4
So Americans are stressed about their jobs. So what?
For one, there are the financial costs. As a joint study by Stanford and Harvard researchers found that work-related stress represents a $190 billion drain on businesses in healthcare costs.5
Far more significant, however, is the cost of human life. According to the same study, stressful jobs contribute to 120,000 deaths each year, with minorities and less educated workers representing the hardest hit. Hispanic women with less than 12 years of education, for example, account for a little more than 19 percent of deaths linked to workplace stress. Meanwhile, white women with more than 17 years of education account for less than 4 percent.6
In other words, reducing workplace stress means saving lives. The only problem is that, be it entitled public transportation users or piles of paperwork, doing so means systematic changes largely outside of the control of the employees themselves.
That said, America’s workforce isn’t entirely helpless. As the American Psychological Association points out, stress isn’t merely an emotional reaction, but a physical one, often leading to poor health habits such as reduced exercise and erratic eating patterns. By staying active and eating both well and regularly, employees can help prevent the wear and tear of stress on their bodies.7
Other suggestions include using workday breaks to distance oneself as much as possible from the work itself. For some this may mean physically removing themselves from the office or wherever they work, or simply talking to a coworker about something other than one’s job. Finally, while customers may hold a bus driver (or server, etc.) to the standard of perfection, he or she should not. By relieving oneself of this expectation, employees can go a long way in staving off the stress that comes with the inevitable error.8
Written by Tamarra Kemsley
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