If you're sitting stressed out at work right now -- or lying in bed too stressed to sleep -- you are not alone. A new survey by the American Psychological Association, conducted in January and released on March 5th, found that "one-third of employees experience chronic stress related to work" and that work stress is especially acute in women.
According to the APA, which surveyed 1,501 employed adults, women are more likely to report that they feel tense during work (37 percent of women versus 33 percent of men) and less likely to feel there are enough opportunities for internal career advancement (35 percent of women versus 43 percent of men). Women are also less likely to report feeling valued by their employer than men (48 percent of women versus 54 percent of men).
While both genders feel they are paid too little for their work -- fifty-four percent of all employees surveyed say they feel inadequately compensated -- women were more likely than men to feel underpaid.
According to Lauren Weber and Sue Shellenbarger at the Wall Street Journal, the discrepancy in stress between the genders may be affected by the fact that men tend to have a "fight or flight" reaction to stress while women gravitate towards a "tend and befriend" response, "seeking comfort in relationships and care of loved ones." Weber and Shellenberger also point out that women's stress levels have increased over the same period that they've become responsible for bringing in more income: A working wife's contribution today is around 47 percent, compared to 38 percent in 1988.
The new study is the latest of many examining the relationship between women and stress. A 2012 study by the Families and Work Institute found that nearly 50 percent of American women feel they don't have enough free time creating an increase in stress which can then lead to a rise in cortisol, the hormone that dictates the fight or flight instinct. High cortisol levels can increase the risk of serious illnesses like diabetes and heart disease. A 2010 study published in the journal Molecular Psychiatry found that women are more sensitive than men to the stress hormone corticotropin-releasing factor (CRF) which may help explain why women are more prone to both depression and stressing out.
The APA survey may add fuel to the work-life balance debate that is already generating more headlines than usual, due in part to Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg's new book "Lean In", which documents her own experience balancing life and work, and in part to Yahoo! CEO Marissa Mayer's ban on telecommuting, which some took as an attack on working mothers.
David W. Ballard, PsyD, MBA, head of APA’s Center for Organizational Excellence, stated in the press release that, "when employers acknowledge that employees have responsibilities and lives outside of work, they can take steps to promote a good work-life fit and help individuals better manage these multiple demands."
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