Worker stress

What are American workers' biggest fears?

September 13, 2012: 12:57 PM ET

More workers listed flat paychecks than even fear of losing their jobs as their top source of workplace stress in a recent survey.

By Elizabeth G. Olson

FORTUNE -- As workers return to the office routine after their summer vacations this year, they are feeling more secure about the jobs they are returning to, but not feeling so swell about the size of their paychecks, according to a new survey.

Just 4% of respondents in a survey by Harris Interactive ranked fear of being fired or laid off as their primary workplace worry. This was a drop from 9% in last year's study. While annoying coworkers, commuting, and work overload also were top triggers for anxiety, more workers fretted about low wages, with 11% naming flat paychecks at the top of their workplace stress list.

This snapshot of worker sentiment is backed up by recent jobs data, says Christine Owen, economist at the National Employment Law Project. "We are not seeing the same level of job loss," as the massive personnel rifts that characterized the recession period have ended, she says, "and fewer people are looking for employment after losing their jobs than they were several years ago.

MORE: How to keep employees you can't afford to lose 

"After one year, two, or three, people worry less about being let go by their employer," says Owen. "And the kinds of jobs being created are not highly paid."

Paychecks are a hot-button issue for women, with 14% of those surveyed listing low wages at the top of their workplace stress list. That compares to 8% of men, in the survey commissioned annually by Everest College, a for-profit education institution that is part of Corinthian Colleges.

Women have made some progress in closing the gender pay gap, according to newly released federal census data. Last year, the median income for a woman was $37,118, up from the $28,699 in 1973, taking inflation into account. Men, on the other hand, saw their median earnings fall to $48,202 this year, some $2,000 less than the $50,622 average in 1973. More

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