There are increasing indications that more and more people are suffering from the effects of psychological stress at the workplace. Stress can result in psychological conditions and this is increasingly becoming a burden on the economy. The causes of growing stress levels are often believed to lie in changes in the working environment and with this, raised expectations. To investigate the possible causes of stress and its impact on job satisfaction and personal happiness, the Steinbeis Foundation conducted a web-based survey in collaboration with the Baden-Württemberg Junior Chamber (WJ BW). The topic: “A changing working world.”
160 young entrepreneurs took part in the survey, which assessed attitudes toward working environments and the influence perceptions have on work satisfaction and personal contentment. The results were analyzed by Prof. Dr. Konrad Zerr of the Steinbeis Consulting Center “Marketing – Intelligence – Consulting”. Although they cannot be considered statistically representative, the findings do provide interesting qualitative insights and are an aid in confirming existing assumptions relating to the links between work and personal satisfaction. Alternatively, they can help reformulate these assumptions.
The respondents were asked to express their personal opinion on the extent to which their working environment had changed in recent times, how they feel about these changes and what brought them about. As expected, a clear majority of respondents pointed to major changes. Using a numerical scale, one third of the respondents scored the changes negatively, around 50% considered them positive as well as negative and just under one fifth felt the changes were purely positive.
In the analysis of the open questions regarding the reasons for the changes, the picture becomes clearer. Over 75% of respondents spontaneously named negative causes. They were particularly likely to point to performance pressure and an exaggerated focus on efficiency in business, and felt this had caused the work-life balance to get out of kilter. The rapid pace of change at work was also a contributing factor. Sometimes a link is made between the lack of skilled workers and the pressure to perform. Some respondents complain about “changing values” in management. Finally, they point to negatively perceived changes in the economy as a whole and to social factors.
The fact that people who are generally quite happy – both in their personal situation and at work – deal with work challenges and the associated stress in a different way is reflected in responses to the question about work stress and whether it is felt to be primarily a positive or a negative thing. The vast majority of happy respondents tend to see work stress as a positive thing (82%). But almost 50% of the less happy respondents also still reported that they experience positive work stress. The differences in perceptions – regarding changes in the working environment, and related to respondents’ attitudes towards work stress – are probably therefore not just because of individuals’ personal attitudes. In part, happy and less happy people are actually likely to be exposed to different stress factors sometimes, which are thrown at them by their environment.
A good 60% of respondents anticipate major change in their working environment in the future. Looking back at changes in the past, the feeling is negative, whereas looking forward, optimistic opinions outnumber the pessimistic ones. With around 50% of respondents, the views are mainly split. The most commonly named catalysts of expected change are factors relating to the employment market, mostly with negative connotations. The expectation is that the lack of skilled workers will continue to place businesses under pressure. However, this also has positive implications for workers as this strengthens their position as an employee. In second place, with much more negative scores, is many respondents’ expectation that the pressure to perform and the focus on efficiency will intensify.
The assessment of increasing flexibility in working arrangements is mainly positive, although some respondents are more critical, believing that flexible work patterns can place more pressure on staff to be available any time they are needed. In fourth place in terms of fuelling negative changes comes increased competition resulting from globalization. This contrasts with respondents’ attitude towards changing values amongst managers, which they mainly expect to be positive. Similarly positive is their attitude towards working practices brought about by new technological possibilities. Only around 8% of the respondents specifically expect it to be easier to reconcile work and family priorities in the future. Finally, most respondents are negative about the challenges posed by demographic change and the pressure from companies to adapt in response to this rate of change.
The most important expectation respondents express regarding management is a better balance between work and family priorities followed by the need for more flexible working hours. Both issues are closely related. Flexible arrangements free people up. Then comes a demand to invest more money in staff training. The issues of protecting staff data, appointing more female managers, diversity or more “self-determination” at work receive comparatively little attention.
To a certain extent, some responses may be linked to the nature of the sample, which had a leaning towards men. When the data is analyzed by gender, there are major differences between the sexes in terms of the demands placed on the managers of the future. As a rule, women have higher expectations and consider almost all issues to be more important, with one exception: they place less emphasis on staff training than male respondents. The opinions diverge clearly between men and women when it comes to “a higher proportion of female managers.” Only just under a fifth of the male respondents consider the issue important compared to over two thirds of the women. There are also differences between the sexes with respect to part-time work and equal pay. Women consider these issues much more important. The results of the study show that the re spondents feel that changes in working environments will continue to intensify. Looking back, opinions tend to be more negative whereas future prospects are more positive. However, when respondents are prompted further about the anticipated lack of skilled workers, the issue of increasing pressure to perform is raised. On the positive side, the respondents predict increasingly flexible working arrangements with an expectation that it will be easier to reconcile work and personal priorities.