Why Is Everyone So Unhappy at Work Right Now? - Kanebridge News
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Why Is Everyone So Unhappy at Work Right Now?

U.S. employees are more dissatisfied than they were in the thick of the pandemic

By VANESSA FUHRMANS
Wed, Nov 29, 2023 8:39amGrey Clock 5 min

Americans, by many measures, are unhappier at work than they have been in years.

Despite wage increases, more paid time off and greater control over where they work, the number of U.S. workers who say they are angry, stressed and disengaged is climbing, according to Gallup’s 2023 workplace report. Meanwhile, a BambooHR analysis of data from more than 57,000 workers shows job-satisfaction scores have fallen to their lowest point since early 2020, after a 10% drop this year alone.

In interviews with workers around the country, it is clear the unhappiness is part of a rethinking of work life that began in 2020. The sources of workers’ discontent range from inflation, which is erasing much of recent pay gains, to the still-unsettled nature of the workday. People chafe against being micromanaged back to offices, yet they also find isolating aspects of hybrid and remote work. A cooling job market—especially in white-collar roles—is leaving many professionals feeling stuck.

Companies have largely moved on from pandemic operating mode, cutting costs and renewing a focus on productivity. The disconnect with workers has managers frustrated, and no quick fix seems to be at hand. Those in charge said they have given staff more money, flexibility and support, only to come up short.

The experiences of workers like Lindsey Leesmann suggest how expectations have shifted from just a few years ago. Leesmann, 38 years old, said she soured on a philanthropy job after having to return to the office two days a week earlier this year.

Prepandemic, she would have been happy working three days a week at home. “It would have been a dream come true.” Still, her team’s in-office requirements seemed like going backward, and made her feel that her professionalism and work quality were in doubt. Instead of collaborating more, she and others rarely left their desks, except for meetings or lunch, she said. Negative feelings followed her home on her hourlong commute, leaving her short-tempered with her kids.

“You try to keep work and home separate, but that sort of stuff is just impacting your mental health so much,” said Leesmann, who recently moved to a new job that requires five in-office days a month.

No more honeymoon

The discontent has business leaders struggling for answers, said Stephan Scholl, chief executive of Alight Solutions, a technology company focused on benefits and payroll administration. Many of the Fortune 100 companies on Alight’s client list boosted spending on employee benefits such as mental health, child care and well-being bonuses by 20% over the pandemic years.

“All that extra spend has not translated into happier employees,” Scholl said. In an Alight survey of 2,000 U.S. employees this year, 34% said they often dread starting their workday—an 11-percentage-point rise since 2020. Corporate clients have told him mental-health claims and costs from employee turnover are rising.

One factor is the share of workers who are relatively new to their roles after record levels of job-switching, said Benjamin Granger, chief workplace psychologist at software company Qualtrics. Many employers have focused more on hiring than situating new employees well, leaving many newbies feeling adrift. In other cases, workers discovered shiny-seeming new jobs weren’t a great fit.

The upshot is that the newest workers are among the least satisfied, Qualtrics data show—a reversal of the higher levels of enthusiasm that fresh hires typically voice. In its study of nearly 37,000 workers published last month, people less than six months into a job reported lower levels of engagement, feelings of inclusion and intent to stay than longer-tenured workers. They also scored lower on those metrics than new workers in 2022, suggesting the pay raises that lured many people to new jobs might not be as satisfying as they were a year or two ago.

“What happened to that honeymoon phase?” Granger said.

John Shurr, a 66-year-old former manufacturing engineer, took a job as an inventory manager at a heavy-equipment retailer in the spring in Missoula, Mont., after being laid off during the pandemic.

“It was a nice job title on a pretty rotten job,” said Shurr, who learned soon after starting that his duties would also include sales to walk-in customers.

When Shurr broached the subject, his boss asked him to give it a chance and said he was really needed on the showroom floor. Shurr, who describes himself as more of a computer guy, quit about a month later.

“I feel kind of trapped at the moment,” said Shurr, who has since taken a part-time job as a parts manager as he tries to find full-time work.

Bridging the distance

Long-distance relationships between bosses and staff might also be an issue. Nearly a third of workers at large firms don’t work in the same metro area as their managers, up from about 23% in February 2020, according to data from payroll provider ADP.

Distance has weakened ties among co-workers and heightened conflict, said Moshe Cohen, a mediator and negotiation coach who teaches conflict resolution at Boston University’s Questrom School of Business. He has noticed more employees calling co-workers or bosses toxic or impossible, signs that trust is thin.

Cohen’s corporate clients said their employees are increasingly transactional with one another. Some are coaching workers in the finer points of dialogue, such as saying hello first before jumping into the substance of a conversation.

“The idea of slowing down, taking the time, being genuine, trying to actually establish some sort of connection with the other person—that’s really missing,” Cohen said.

One Los Angeles-based consultant in his 20s, who asked to remain anonymous because he is seeking another job, said that when he started his job at a large company last year, his largely remote colleagues were focused on their own work, unwilling to show a new hire the ropes or invite him for coffee. Many leave cameras off for video calls and few people show up at the office, making it hard to build relationships.

“There’s zero humanity,” he said, noting that he is seeking another job with a strong office culture.

The share of U.S. companies mandating office attendance five days a week has fallen this year—to 38% in October from 49% at the start of the year—according to Scoop Technologies, a software firm that developed an index to monitor workplace policies of nearly 4,500 companies.

Some companies have reversed flexible remote-work policies—in large part, they said, to boost employee engagement and productivity—only to face worker backlash.

Not all the data point downward. A Conference Board survey in November 2022 of U.S. adults showed workers were more satisfied with their jobs than they had been in years. Key contingents among the happiest employees: people who voluntarily switched roles during the pandemic and those working a mix of in-person and remote days. But that poll was taken before a spate of layoffs at high-profile companies and big declines in the number of knowledge-worker and professional jobs advertised.

At Farmers Group, workers posted thousands of mostly negative comments on the insurer’s internal social-media platform after its new CEO nixed the company’s previous policy allowing most workers to be remote.

Employees like Kandy Mimande said they felt betrayed. “We couldn’t get the ‘why,’” said the 43-year-old, who had sold her car and spent thousands of dollars to redo her home office under the remote-work policy. She shelled out $10,000 for a used car for the commute. A company spokesperson said that not all employees will support every business decision and that Farmers hasn’t seen a significant impact on staff retention.

During a brief leave, Mimande realised she no longer felt a sense of purpose from her product-management job. She resigned last month after she and her wife decided they could live on one salary.

She now helps promote a band and pet-sits. “It’s so much easier for me to report to myself,” she said.



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These stocks are getting hit for a reason. Instead, focus on stocks that show ‘relative strength.’ Here’s how.

By KEN SHREVE
Wed, Jun 12, 2024 4 min

A lot of investors get stock-picking wrong before they even get started: Instead of targeting the top-performing stocks in the market, they focus on the laggards—widely known companies that look as if they are on sale after a period of stock-price weakness.

But these weak performers usually are going down for good reasons, such as for deteriorating sales and earnings, market-share losses or mutual-fund managers who are unwinding positions.

Decades of Investor’s Business Daily research shows these aren’t the stocks that tend to become stock-market leaders. The stocks that reward investors with handsome gains for months or years are more often  already  the strongest price performers, usually because of outstanding earnings and sales growth and increasing fund ownership.

Of course, many investors already chase performance and pour money into winning stocks. So how can a discerning investor find the winning stocks that have more room to run?

Enter “relative strength”—the notion that strength begets more strength. Relative strength measures stocks’ recent performance relative to the overall market. Investing in stocks with high relative strength means going with the winners, rather than picking stocks in hopes of a rebound. Why bet on a last-place team when you can wager on the leader?

One of the easiest ways to identify the strongest price performers is with IBD’s Relative Strength Rating. Ranked on a scale of 1-99, a stock with an RS rating of 99 has outperformed 99% of all stocks based on 12-month price performance.

How to use the metric

To capitalise on relative strength, an investor’s search should be focused on stocks with RS ratings of at least 80.

But beware: While the goal is to buy stocks that are performing better than the overall market, stocks with the highest RS ratings aren’t  always  the best to buy. No doubt, some stocks extend rallies for years. But others will be too far into their price run-up and ready to start a longer-term price decline.

Thus, there is a limit to chasing performance. To avoid this pitfall, investors should focus on stocks that have strong relative strength but have seen a moderate price decline and are just coming out of weeks or months of trading within a limited range. This range will vary by stock, but IBD research shows that most good trading patterns can show declines of up to one-third.

Here, a relative strength line on a chart may be helpful for confirming an RS rating’s buy signal. Offered on some stock-charting tools, including IBD’s, the line is a way to visualise relative strength by comparing a stock’s price performance relative to the movement of the S&P 500 or other benchmark.

When the line is sloping upward, it means the stock is outperforming the benchmark. When it is sloping downward, the stock is lagging behind the benchmark. One reason the RS line is helpful is that the line can rise even when a stock price is falling, meaning its value is falling at a slower pace than the benchmark.

A case study

The value of relative strength could be seen in Google parent Alphabet in January 2020, when its RS rating was 89 before it started a 10-month run when the stock rose 64%. Meta Platforms ’ RS rating was 96 before the Facebook parent hit new highs in March 2023 and ran up 65% in four months. Abercrombie & Fitch , one of 2023’s best-performing stocks, had a 94 rating before it soared 342% in nine months starting in June 2023.

Those stocks weren’t flukes. In a study of the biggest stock-market winners from the early 1950s through 2008, the average RS rating of the best performers before they began their major price runs was 87.

To see relative strength in action, consider Nvidia . The chip stock was an established leader, having shot up 365% from its October 2022 low to its high of $504.48 in late August 2023.

But then it spent the next four months rangebound—giving up some ground, then gaining some back. Through this period, shares held between $392.30 and the August peak, declining no more than 22% from top to bottom.

On Jan. 8, Nvidia broke out of its trading range to new highs. The previous session, Nvidia’s RS rating was 97. And that week, the stock’s relative strength line hit new highs. The catalyst: Investors cheered the company’s update on its latest advancements in artificial intelligence.

Nvidia then rose 16% on Feb. 22 after the company said earnings for the January-ended quarter soared 486% year over year to $5.16 a share. Revenue more than tripled to $22.1 billion. It also significantly raised its earnings and revenue guidance for the quarter that was to end in April. In all, Nvidia climbed 89% from Jan. 5 to its March 7 close.

And the stock has continued to run up, surging past $1,000 a share in late May after the company exceeded that guidance for the April-ended quarter and delivered record revenue of $26 billion and record net profit of $14.88 billion.

Ken Shreve  is a senior markets writer at Investor’s Business Daily. Follow him on X  @IBD_KShreve  for more stock-market analysis and insights, or contact him at  ken.shreve@investors.com .