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Workers to Boss: Less Stress, Please

Your employer may not know your blood pressure is rising. Set clear goals, then log off e-mail.

Interview with Laura Sejen, global director of strategic rewards for human-resources consultant Watson Wyatt Worldwide.

Your survey shows that employers are having a hard time keeping their best people. How come? There's a disconnect between employers and employees. It's interesting that there is so little variation around the world. In Asia, Canada, Europe and the U.S., stress is most frequently cited by employees as the reason for leaving a company. In Latin America, it's a close second. But employers didn't cite stress as a top reason at all. Maybe they don't realize that the impact of stress is as important as employees say it is.

More important than pay? Only one of the top-five reasons that employees give for joining a company or for leaving it is monetary. There's no getting around having to pay competitively. But what's increasingly important is what the work is like.

You see the impact of globalization in the ongoing drive for stronger business results and improved productivity. You're always on call with e-mail, cell phones and BlackBerries. You may go to bed at night caught up on your e-mail, but when you get up in the morning, you've got messages from Europe and Asia. Our findings are a wake-up call to companies: They need to focus more holistically on employees.

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What should key employees be asking for? Communication about compensation -- the range of pay for job-level x, incentive-bonus opportunities and what you need to do to move to the next level.

A harder topic to address is the need to structure the objectives for a job so they can be accomplished in a given workday. Ask what is critical for the next six months to a year. Make sure that if you have to go home because of child-care or elder-care issues, you'll be okay as long as you focus on those priorities. Your relationship with your boss doesn't have to be great, as long as the focus is on what you've achieved at the end of the year.

Are employers off the hook if the economy slows? If the economy slows dramatically and that translates into higher unemployment, then it takes the pressure off companies to attract and retain workers. But how much pressure it takes off is subject to discussion. Employers will always have to pay a premium for employees who make the strongest contribution.

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