These three posts discuss workplace stress and gender. I’ll begin each post by stating that I understand gender is more complex than the binary of male and female. Most of the research that underpins these posts perpetuates that binary. However, as recently as in the last ten years, social science researchers have begun to investigate the experience of non-binary and non-conforming gender identity in the workplace. That important research will expand our understanding of the experience of work.
In this post, I discuss the stressors that women and men have in common. In the next post, I’ll discuss the stressors unique to women, then, in Part 3, those unique to men. Lastly, it’s important to understand that research shows that women consistently report higher levels of workplace stress than men.
Earlier this year, I had an opportunity to analyse data collected in 2012 by Statistics Canada for the mental health component of their community health survey. At the end of this post, I briefly explain the method of analysis, but most importantly, here is what I found:
personal life stress causes workplace stress
For women and men, regardless of whether they are partnered or single, the data shows that the same four stressors appear to contribute most to workplace stress. Firstly, higher personal life stress causes more workplace stress. For all groups, higher personal life stress was either the highest or second highest contributor to workplace stress. This has been called negative life-work spillover by some researchers. They also found no differences between genders.
The other stressor that was either the highest or second highest contributor to workplace stress was doing complex tasks or learning new things. This is likely the result of something called technostress, and also the result of increasing organizational change. Technostress is the stress associated with not understanding how to use technology and not knowing when it will change. Many of us work with ever-changing computer software and hardware. Also, other change in the workplace, whether it is new business processes or restructuring, for example, has accelerated to an almost indistinguishable blur.
lower personal income causes higher workplace stress
The stressor that the data shows as always being third highest for all groups was personal income. People with lower personal incomes report higher workplace stress. We live in a world where most of the things we want, and are conditioned to want, cost money. Social safety nets continue to be eroded. For some, not having an income means homelessness, misery, and even death.
A lack of autonomy, not having control or influence over our jobs and how we do them, was the fourth highest stressor for all groups. Canada is a fairly individualist society; more so than countries in Asia, and a little less so than the United States. Autonomy is one of the most highly valued characteristics of individualist societies. Structuring organizational roles to include autonomy is common to many job enrichment strategies.
Lastly, men and women, partnered or single, have something else in common. For all these groups, age, physical and mental health, and the perceived ability to handle stress well, were not contributors to workplace stress. This means that age does not determine how much workplace stress you experience. Neither does your mental or physical health, nor how well you think you handle stress. All these things were not statistically significant.
the least stressed person at work
Based on this analysis, who might be the least stressed person in your workplace? Look for the person who is left alone to do their work and whose job doesn’t change too much. Then, if they are paid enough and have a good home life, they are likely one of the least stressed persons in the company. This is not the usual experience of work and it’s no wonder that nearly half of all working Canadians report being often or always stressed at work. In the next two posts, I’ll discuss the stressors unique to both women and men not included in this analysis.
Summary of analysis method: Factor analysis was performed on twelve workplace stress variables that yielded four factors. Eight regression models were constructed that included the factors and other variables from the survey. The dependent variable was self-reported workplace stress. Significant data (≤ 0.05) was ranked by standardized beta coefficients. Models had adjusted R2 values from 0.185 to 0.246. Over 29,000 Canadian households participated in the survey.