Manufacturing Employees Report Increased Stress; Are You the Reason for the Rise?

Challenges: News, Workforce, Read

Posted by Christine Schmitz

No industry is free from factors of high stress, including the metalworking industry. According to a recent Forbes magazine article, workplace stress has risen nearly 20% in three decades, and most significantly over the past five years. In an October 2018 Korn Ferry survey of 2,000 professionals, nearly two-thirds say their stress levels at work are higher than they were five years ago.


Here’s the hard truth friends of MakingChips, the largest source of stress reported in the Korn Ferry survey was related to leadership. That’s right, 35% of respondents said their boss is their biggest source of stress at work, and 80% say a change in leadership, such as a new direct manager or someone higher up the organizational chart, impacts their stress levels.


If that’s not enough incentive to keep trying to get better at being a manufacturing business leader, then maybe this will help. The top two reasons given by respondents for increased stress over time are: the threat of losing a job to technology, and the pressure to learn new skills just to stay employed.


For all of us in the metalworking community, those two issues should really hit home.


While workplace stress is universal, whether you’re a machine shop employee trying to create a healthy work-life balance, or a manufacturing business leader trying to provide the best work environment for your employees, there are some unique factors within our industry that deserve to be considered.


According to a Japanese researcher, Sangyo Eiseigaku Zasshi, job-specific stress within the manufacturing industry includes high job demands, low job control, low social support, role ambiguity and conflict, the physical, chemical and ergonomics of the work environment, work patterns with work schedule and shift work, and job insecurity regarding future employment.


Zasshi’s research shows, when considering effective stress management plans to counteract these specific factors, the work environment should implement an organizational approach promoting more autonomy and activities with increasing job control, give more clarified roles and responsibilities, provide a mutually supportive system for communication, and grant employees additional benefits, such as paid vacation or other leisure incentives. Not only are these the exact topics we discuss with leaders in our field every week on the MakingChips podcast, but they are the challenges we are each trying to personally work out within our own businesses.


Dennis Baltzley, a Korn Ferry senior partner and global head of Leadership Development Solutions, says, “There are many factors that cause increased stress levels at work, including keeping up with changes in technology, increased workloads, and interpersonal conflict.”


Baltzley suggests leaders restructure firms to dismantle anxiety-causing top-down corporate structures and eliminate authoritarian leadership styles. He also notes, some of the best steps any business can take to help reduce stress is to offer training on new technologies and development for managers on how best to lead. (Pardon me, but that sounds an awful lot like our MakingChips mantra: Equip and Inspire.)


One of the most interesting discoveries from the Korn Ferry survey was that workers really just want to work. Does that surprise you?


Sometimes it is tempting to assume an employee who is feeling stressed or anxious would prefer to have less responsibility or a decreased workload, however 79% of survey respondents said not having enough work is more stressful than having too much work.


You read that right: most employees would rather have too much work than not enough.


In addition, 74% said they would rather take on more work if they got paid more rather than cut back their workloads and receive less compensation.


If you are a manufacturing business leader wondering what you can do about all of this, don’t be stressed! Here’s the takeaway:

  • Leadership is the biggest source of employee stress, so don’t wait another day to restructure any top-down systems and release or re-educate any outdated authoritarian managers.

  • Workplace stress is increasing everywhere, but within the metalworking community the biggest factor is due to job insecurity, which includes the threat of losing a job to technology and the pressure to learn new skills just to stay employed.

  • Finally, recognize at least 75% of your employees genuinely wish to work and be challenged in healthy and productive ways. Promoting more autonomy by increasing job control and giving more clarified roles and responsibilities can go a long way toward employee satisfaction and retention, thereby reducing stress for everyone. 

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