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Workplace stress: Are you wearing yourself out?

Updated: Apr 15

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The United States of America was built on the concept of hard work. It is a main facet of the “American Dream” – this idea that anyone can become financially successful and achieve upward mobility through hard work and perseverance. 

This aspiration remains both viable and true for many citizens. According to recent polls and research, 33% of Americans believe they have achieved the American Dream and 42% believe they are on the way to achieving it. 

Making the American Dream accessible

While much of this success is based on individual mindsets, there are also factors that are built into the society itself. Take for example starting a business. The US ranks 6th on the list of the easiest countries in the entire world to set up your own business, meaning fewer hoops to jump through, fewer prohibitive taxes when setting up, and other benefits. 

Government support for workers and businesses

There is much to celebrate in this ideal as it ​​promotes a fairer, more egalitarian society. It really does benefit your everyday, hard-working individuals who are trying to carve out their own lives. One report from the Pew Research Center found that self-employed Americans (and their employees) made up 30% of the nation’s workforce, which is around 16 million people. 

Most Americans are employees

But behind every business from the small mom-and-pop stores to the multinational corporations are the employees. Overall, 107.8 million people worked in the service sector, accounting for 71% of all nonfarm payroll employees, compared to just 16 million that are self-employed. And that’s just the service sector. 

The biggest subsection of society by far are employees. And these people work exceptionally hard. In fact, the main cause of workplace stress is having a high workload, a problem that affects 39% of all workers.

Is the American Dream working for you?

In a country of 331 million people, there are understandably many areas where people fall through the cracks. The same survey quoted above also has some other statistics that are more worrying. For example, 24% of respondents claimed that the American Dream is out of reach – up from 18% in 2022. There also seems to be a sense of pessimism among newer generations, with 19% claiming they have fewer opportunities than their parents. 

So, why the pessimism? 

While we can point the finger at many issues, whether the global economy or geopolitical strife, there is one common factor that emerges – stress. An incredible 83% of US workers claim to suffer from work-related stress, with 25% claiming it is the biggest stressor in their lives. 

The impact of work-related stress

This has a hugely negative impact on society, both in terms of individual happiness and financial costs. Not only do one million Americans miss work every day because of stress, but 76% report that it affects their personal relationships. Stress can also negatively impact productivity, with over 50% of US workers not engaged at work due to stress.

This costs US businesses around $51 billion a year, without mentioning the additional $26 billion in treatment costs. To put it simply, stress is an endemic that affects almost everyone in one way or another in the US.

Workplace mental health: What help is there?

When it comes to such a broad issue as workplace stress, there is no one way to overcome it. As workplace stress affects everyone in one way or another, it needs to be a joint effort to tackle it effectively. 

Let’s look at a few ways. 

The role of the government

The government plays a large role in making it possible for normal people to set up businesses and become entrepreneurs. So, it makes sense that they should continue supporting those businesses by helping the workers. 

One example of this is ensuring that employees get enough time off work. For example, in January, the “Illinois Paid Leave for All Workers Act” went into effect, stating that nearly all workers are entitled to at least one week of paid leave a year, amounting to 40 hours. 

Chicago specifically will also have a new ordinance, which is set to come into effect on July 1, saying that all employees will be entitled to 40 hours of paid sick leave and 40 hours of paid leave for any reason if they have worked 80 hours for the employer within any 120-day period in the city.

Laws like these provide a minimum guarantee of fairness for employees, ensuring they have enough time off to disconnect and recharge their batteries. 

The role of the business

Continuing with paid leave specifically, businesses shouldn’t see the above paid leave as a maximum, offering employees only 40 hours a year and not a second more. As an employer, by not going the extra mile to ensure your employees are mentally healthy, you are shooting yourself in the foot. 

Studies show that for workers to be happy, they need around three times the Chicago minimum – or 15 days a year. In countries in Europe, such as Spain, the minimum that workers are entitled to by law is 22 days. 

Of course, time off is just one part of mental health in the workplace. Businesses should undergo workplace mental health training courses to understand the full impact on their company and its workers. 

Becoming more conscious of your employee’s mental health has wide-ranging positive results, leading to happier, more productive workers and fewer associated costs.

The role of the individual

Finally, remember that you are also responsible for your own mental health. Yes, protections need to be put into place, but ultimately you are the one who is experiencing the symptoms and you must take active steps to ensure your own health. 

A common phrase that has emerged in the mental health world is that “self care is more than just a bubble bath.” Self-care isn’t a luxury – it needs to be built into your everyday life. This includes everything from eating well to getting enough sleep to taking enough breaks throughout the day. 

Are you struggling with your mental health?

While self-care is important, the issue can often go much deeper than this. If you find that you are constantly struggling with your mental health due to workplace stress, it is important to seek help. 

There are many ways you can do this, whether contacting your local doctor, speaking with your boss or manager, or finding a support service near you

At MHAI, we are always available to ensure that you get access to the right support for you. Check out these Mental Health America resources about creating a better work life balance for yourself and notes 4Mind4Body. Or,  contact us and we will get back to you with additional resources.


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