U.S. Workers: Overstressed, Underpaid

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Employees afraid of losing their benefits are enduring increased workloads at the cost of quality work, a recent study suggests.

About 40% of employees saw their workload increase last year compared with a year before, according to an annual MetLife study of employee benefit trends. 

More Work for Less Pay

As workload expectations increased, many employees were plagued by worries that could actually hinder productivity. About 68% of employees reported that the quality of their work decreased, they were more afraid of losing their jobs or they were distracted due to personal financial concerns, the study found.

Job security worries appear to be justified, the study suggests. Employers also appeared less concerned than before about retaining talented workers, according to the MetLife study.

Meanwhile, employees are taking home less pay than they were a year ago, according to the Bureau of Economic Analysis at the U.S. Department of Commerce. The Commerce Department reports a 2.6% decrease in personal income per capita in 2009. Incomes were particularly hard hit in Wyoming, where workers made 5.9% less overall than in 2008.

Nationwide, about 45% of workers are living paycheck to paycheck, up from 37% in 2006, MetLife found. Plus, a majority of workers may not have adequate emergency savings. About 62% of employees said they were concerned about having enough money to pay their bills  if they unexpectedly lost their jobs, the study found.

What’s more, workers are increasingly considering delaying their retirement until later in life. About 59% percent of workers expect to work past age 65, according to the study.

Happiness at Work

Americans appear to have put their finances ahead of their happiness amid the economic downturn. 

While workers were happier with their employee benefits than they were before the recession, and were even willing to pay more to get those benefits, nearly half of workers didn’t consider themselves very happy at work in general, MetLife found. In fact, built-up stress from employers can lead to some serious and even murderous consequences, as MainStreet previously reported.

Benefit levels generally remained steady, but not surprisingly, when they were reduced, employee job satisfaction took a hit. Only 43% of employees who lost some or all of their benefits said they were very satisfied with their jobs, compared with 55% of those whose benefits weren’t reduced, according to MetLife surveys.

A Turning Point

Since the start of this year, the job market appears to be improving. About 20% of employers said they planned to hire new workers, according to job search site CareerBuilder. Full-time staff among industries including information technology, manufacturing, financial services, sales and business services in particular are expected to see significant growth.

In the first quarter of 2010 alone, 23% of employers said they’ve already added employees in full-time, permanent positions, CNN reports.

And as the job market improves, companies may begin to realize that their employees aren’t as loyal as they initially thought. “Employees who feel undervalued may not be motivated to stay when a job opportunity presents itself elsewhere,” MetLife wrote.

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