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Balancing act: Study shows work stress, anxiety on the rise worldwide

Published: Monday, Jan. 11 2016 5:25 p.m. MST

After two fun holiday weeks, I've jumped back into workday stress. That's not ideal, and I'm pretty sure many of you are in the same boat right now. What's more, according to some new data, the problem of work stress is growing around the world.

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We're almost two weeks into the new year, and I'm still struggling to get into a good post-holiday groove.

I enjoyed some truly relaxing days at home during those abbreviated workweeks, and that has made the return to the daily grind much more difficult.

Adding to the challenge has been the extremely busy nature of these weeks as I work on year-end employee evaluations while also trying to figure out pay increases and bonuses for the 19 people on my team.

In other words, I've gone from holiday relaxation to workday stress. That's not ideal, and I'm pretty sure many of you are in the same boat right about now.

What's more, according to some new data, the problem of work stress seems to be growing around the world.

This fresh information comes from Workplace Options, an integrated employee support services and work-life provider. The company recently examined a set of data encompassing a "relatively stable population" of more than 100,000 employees across Asia, Europe, Africa, North America and South America to look at trends in the use of its Employee Assistance Programs.

The data included all EAP inquiries made by these employees from 2012-14. I wish they had looked at part of 2015, too, but the depth and breadth of the information makes up for that slight loss of currency.

According to a press release about the data, Workplace Options found that the number of EAP cases dealing with personal emotional health issues stayed relatively constant over all three years, but instances of employee stress, anxiety and depression rose significantly during that time.

Specifically, the press release said, about 4 of every 10 EAP cases during the three-year period were related to personal emotional health issues. However, the number of cases dealing with employee depression increased by 58 percent between 2012 and 2014, while cases involving employee anxiety jumped 74 percent and those related to employee stress rose 28 percent.

Employee depression, stress and anxiety issues accounted for 82.6 percent of all emotional health cases in 2014, compared to 55.2 percent in 2012.

"Serious mental health issues can have a devastating effect on organizations around the world," said Dean Debnam, CEO of Workplace Options, in the press release about the data. "What this analysis means for businesses around the world is that if your employees' emotional well-being wasn't already on the top of your list of priorities, it needs to be."

Any number of factors could be contributing to the rise in stress and anxiety, the press release said.

"The red flag here for the business community is the nature of the calls and inquiries that we are getting from across the world," Debnam said in the release. "While the percentage of cases dealing with personal emotional health issues is relatively unchanged, the issues we're dealing with have become much more severe over the past three years.

"This can mean a couple of different things. More and more employees across the world are obviously struggling with very serious emotional health issues, but the silver lining is that among those struggling, more and more appear to be willing to reach out for help."

Fortunately, I haven't been in a situation that led me to take advantage of an employer's EAP. I know people who have done so, and they've mostly been happy with the service they received.

But I draw a different conclusion from this data, as well. I'm sure it's predictable, coming from me, but I would argue that employee well-being is at least partly a result of work-life balance.

When I think about the things I do to relieve my work-related stress and anxiety, they are many of the same activities I undertake to build a more balanced life.

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