The Impact of the Great Recession on Workplace Stress
Several months after the official onset of the Great Recession
in December 2007,1 Elizabeth Bernstein, writing
in The Wall Street Jowrnal, observed that "as th6 economy
falters and layoffs sweep certain industries, many
people are more worried than ever about job security-
in addition to fretting over the value of their homes,
the cost of college, and a host of other issues. Making
matters worse: Stressed-out bosses and co-workers
tend to pass tension on to others."2 Moreover, as observed
by Angela Scappatura, writing for the Canadian
HR Reporter,when "[t]here is a lot of uncertainty in
the workplace . . . [,] [i]t is important for rhe organization
to focus on eliminating anxiety among employees
because heightened emotions can be detrimental to the
"Put your ear to the ground nowadays and you
hear a steady rumble of 'stress-stress-stress-stress', like
a herd of bison in the distance. Whether it's a consequence
of recessionary cost-cutting and downsizing or
the ever more cut-throat pace of change in the global
marketplace, . . . huge chunks of the workforce seem to
be stressed out by their jobs-and it's getting worse."4
Numerous reasons are cited for these elevated stress levels:
lack of job security shrinking pensions, micromanagement
and over-control of employees, de-skilled jobs,
routine abuse by ill-informed and ungrateful customers,
long work hours, and virtually nonexistent support
from management.5
One of the common corporate solutions for dealing,
at least partially, with the impact of the Great Recession
has been downsizing. Although downsizing can
help companies with cost reductions, such an action
has substantial negative impacts on employee attitudes.
Employees perceive the layoffs as a rupturing of the
employer-employee contract; and those who survive
the layoffs typically suffer from low morale and lack of
trust in and loyalty to their employer.6 Yet all too often
employers do not understand the impact of employee
stress on companies' success, particularly the overall
customer experience and attainment of overall business
Hiring and salary freezes, layoffs, and bon
reductions-all in an attempt to cut costs-can lead
an increase in employees'workloads and adversely afft
their ability to deal with work-related stress.8 Paula I
len, vice-president of organizational solutions and trai
ing at Shepell-fgi in Toronto, Canada, says that with t
increased demands on employees, many of them are n
taking care of themselves with respect to taking stock
the situation and solving problems or with regard to g,
ting enough sleep and relaxation. She continues, "'[t]her
always the feeling, if things are rough, [that] you should
working 24 hours a day. If you are doing that, it's going
take a toll. You're going to build resentment, fatigue."'e
Commenting in October 2010 after the official er
of the Great Recession in June 2009,10 Sarah Dobso
writing in the Canadian HR Reporter, expressed a vir
shared by many people in North America: "The rece
recession was grueling, no doubt, and it's not over y(
So, it's no surprise employees are complaining of high
stress and heavier workloads."11 According to Carole 51
ers, an occupational stress consultant, the Great Rece
sion created dangerous, new levels of workplace anxier
"People are more insecure in their jobs, so they're puttir
up with things they otherwise wouldn'r necessarily put r
with. . . . As a result, employers are not getting the be
out of their employees."12 Spiers observes that when er
ployees do not feel they are valued by their employers,,
employees are working long hours or feel they are beir
treated like numbers, those employees will not be loy
to the organization, In addition, employee performan
will suffer, and company productivity and profitabili
will decline.l3
Discussion Questions
1. How has the Great Recession directly affected the
magnitude of stress people experience?
How have the responses of businesses to the Grear
Recession affected employees' stress levels?
How can the Yerkes-Dodson law help in understanding
the impact of the Great Recession on
people's stress levels?