Why the Worry?

Stress Levels are up, But Not Productivity. No One Knows Why

The recent study reporting sharply increased levels of stress among Austrians on the job is as disturbing as it is surprising. After all, getting the balance between work and leisure has always been a point of pride here in the land of Gemütlichkeit, where it is – well, used to be, anyway – possible to have friendships lasting years where neither person was all that clear what the other did for a living. In long conversations that might wander through tales of travels, discussions of books, politics, music or film, the subject simply never came up.

Perhaps that’s changing. And some will surely say that a little pressure is a good thing; working harder will make Austria more competitive and all that.

Well I’m not so sure. First of all, we’re not doing too badly, to say the least, with Austria coming in 3rd in the EU in the 2004 IMF competitiveness ranking. What’s worse is the possibility that all this worry, rather than productive, is self-defeating, that workplace pressure and long hours are measurably counterproductive.

Take the 2005 Microsoft survey of some 38,000 people in 200 countries: Respondents said that although they were working longer, they were less productive and considered some 17 hours out of a 45 hour work week to be wasted time.

“The longer you work, the less efficient you are,” Massachusetts productivity consultant Bob Kustka told New York Times columnist Lisa Belkin. Most workers are like athletes, most efficient in concentrated spurts, with well-timed pauses in between.

Austria’s experience confirms this. With very high productivity, measured fourth in the EU, Austria has the highest number of holidays and paid vacation days per year (38 – the next is France with 35) and the lowest absenteeism, 1 day per year per 1,000 employees.

So where does all this stress come from?

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