Are Younger Workers Really Less Stressed in 2019?
11 Nov 2019
Headlines regularly tell us that the UK workforce is overworked and stressed out.
One in five Brits told the UK's Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD) that they 'often' or 'always' feel exhausted at work, the same one in five that say they feel 'excessive' workplace pressure.
A quarter of Brits now say we find it hard to relax during down-time. And when work-stress bleeds into personal time, it's the very definition of a poor work/life balance.
This 2019 CIPD survey – its annual UK Working Lives study – also found that two in three of us say work-related health issues have taken their toll in the past 12 months, with anxiety and poor sleep the two biggest offenders.
Interestingly, 2019 was the year that the World Health Organisation finally recognised 'burn-out' as a legit medical condition; an “occupational phenomenon”. And as much as it sounds like the NASCAR half-time show, burn-out costs the UK well over 10 million working days each year.
Health, Wealth & Happiness
However, this year's LifeSearch Health, Wealth & Happiness report had something else to add. Data from our nationally representative study identified that there has been a massive reduction in work-related stress in 2019 versus 2018.
Better still, many more people report a healthier work/ life balance this year versus last. In 2018, well over two in five (44%) of us said we were more work than life. This year it is fewer than one in three (31%).
The most interesting piece of the puzzle in 2019 is that work-related stress has improved significantly among the youngest portion of our workforce. In 2018, one in four (25%) 18-34 year olds called out the problem of work-related stress. This year it's closer to one in six (16%).
Could it be that we're in reverse? Or perhaps our pain thresholds are rising? Maybe work has become less stressful, or maybe the data is simply an anomaly. Let's dig.
The age of workaholism
Seeing a healthy reduction in work-related stress, and an improved work/life balance doesn't square with other data – or the perception – that's circulating in Britain today.
According to a five-yearly study charting changes in our working lives (a joint effort by the universities of Cardiff, Oxford and University College London), nearly half (46%) the British workforce now strongly agree their jobs are intense compared to less than a third (32%) who said the same back in 1992.
We might think this is a Western world thing, but the UK ranks 10th in the world when it comes to happiness in the workplace, worse than Austria, Spain, France and Germany. Worse even than the United States.
Not Japan, however. Overworking is so rampant there that one word has come to define the too-common phenomenon of death by overworking. “Karoshi” if you're interested.
Anyway, the time the average full-time British employee sinks into work has been steadily creeping up - it now sits at 42 hours per week. One in four British workers say they overwork by at least ten hours per week, British workers today do an estimated two billion hours of unpaid overtime each year.
So problematic is our habit for overworking that employers have long seen improving 'workplace wellness' as essential, while the UK Parliament has tabled several motions to explore the possibility of a four day working week.
Success over happiness
The younger workforce is traditionally the most ambitious. And despite the modern stereotype of the lazy millennial, further data suggests that this is just as true in 2019.
As reported in Stylist this year, research from the Workplace Happiness Survey – data comprised of 10,000 individual responses – suggests UK youngsters are putting in more hours than ever before. And yes, that comes at the expense of their happiness.
Millennials were clearly the unhappiest at work, and 70% consistently pledge they're going to quit their current employer within the next year. Indeed two years is about the limit many younger workers see themselves in a job.
One in four millennials say they already have a second job (a so-called ’side hustle’) to either top up earnings or lay the groundwork for an entrepreneurial venture. In fact, in the UK, some 60% of millennials say they ultimately aspire to work for themselves, and roughly 75% of top-earning millennials think it 'very likely' they’ll one day start their own company.
In part, this is down to younger workers seeking more fulfilling day jobs with some social good or mission attached. But we can't ignore the army of entrepreneurs, with cult followings on social media, who glorify the hustle and the mania of the millionaire lifestyle, and the all-or-nothingness of making it.
Youngsters see themselves as earners first
Another trundle through this year's LifeSearch Health, Wealth and Happiness data and it seems the youngest part of the workforce (18-34) wrap much of their own value up not in their roles as friends, carers, partners, children, siblings, lovers or fighters … but earners.
The 18-34 year old age bracket is much, much more likely to see the most valuable part of life as the salary that I earn (22%) or the type of job that I do (25%).
More than that, when asked what makes them happy 18-34 year olds are most likely to say spending money on luxuries (11%), my paid work (7%), and building up savings and investments (7%). More insightful than that, almost one in four (24%) 18-34 year olds already have one eye on early retirement.
What next for work-related stress?
It's difficult to conclude on the strength of one positive year that the trends of work-related stress and poor work/ life balance have gone into reverse. They probably haven't. The wider context suggests that younger workers have too much drive and too much invested in work to relax on it.
There's push factors at play powering workplace stress: job security isn't what it was, pensions are a rarity, the talent pool is deeper, competition comes from all angles, and technology can be more threat than friend.
But there's pull factors too: the lure of earning and building a safety net, the appeal of putting a stamp on the world, and a connection with the built from nothing/ anyone can … entrepreneurs who glorify the thrill of making it big.
The youngest portion of the workforce is traditionally the most ambitious. We've seen that going back through the generations. In this era, younger workers have paid tuition fees, came of age during a global financial crisis, and are stuck with social and economic projects that they feel entirely disconnected with. They pretty much feel there's something to prove.
The reality is, there's most likely much more stress to come as today's youngsters try ever harder to sear their name – and that of this generation – onto the country and the world.
So what do we anticipate for work/life balance and work-related stress data in years to come? Fluctuation: good years and bad years. Has it gone into reverse? Highly doubtful … but we look forward to next year.
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