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Arggggh! American Workers Are at a Breaking Point

Franziska Mueller | Flickr | Getty Images

The economy is supposed to be in recovery mode, but you wouldn't know it by the grunts and groans coming from the next cubicle.

A whopping 83 percent of American workers said they are stressed out by at least one thing at work, up sharply from 73 percent in 2012, according to a survey by Harris Interactive for Everest College.

"When you look at all the other economic indicators, there have definitely been some positive signs," said John Swartz, regional director of career services at Everest College. But relief of workplace stress isn't one of them.

"More companies are hiring, but workers are still weary and stressed out from years of a troubled economy that has brought about longer hours, layoffs and budget cuts," Swartz said.

(Watch: Big Data Download: You've Got a Job, Now Deal With the Stress)

Just 17 percent said nothing stresses them out about their jobs. It's interesting that workers 65 and older were the most likely (38 percent) to be in that group.

(Now, their retirement accounts, that's a different story!)

Stress is so ubiquitous and so dangerous that the American Institute of Stress calls it "America's New Black Death." You know, that little plague that is thought to have wiped out more than 100 million people in the 14th century.

"If black plague is what killed most people in Europe in the Middle Ages, then stress is what's killing us the most right now," said Dr. Daniel L. Kirsch, the president of the institute.

(Read More: The Most Stressful Jobs of 2013)

And while many sectors are still trying to claw back, the stress industry is thriving.

"It's actually a very good time to be in the stress business," Kirsch said. "The stress business is booming!"

So what did workers say is causing them the most agita? Everyone act surprised, it was a tie for No. 1: Low pay and unreasonable workload (14 percent each).

That was followed by annoying co-workers (11 percent), job not in a chosen career (8 percent), poor work-life balance (7 percent), lack of opportunity for advancement (6 percent) and fear of being fired or laid off (4 percent).

One of the biggest problems, Swartz said, is that too many companies are making decisions for short-term benefits and not thinking about long-term effects.

"I think, ultimately, [stress] can have a huge impact and a negative impact," he said. "If workers are stressed out and not feeling good about what they're doing, they're going to reach a breaking point. And the worst thing that could happen is for an organization to lose someone that's valuable. Then, you have to start from scratch … bring in new people. … There are significant costs associated with that."

(Read More: The Least Stressful Jobs of 2013)

One friend strung along with part-time work for three years recently found a full-time job. When she told her boss she was quitting, he asked her to reconsider.

"What can I tell you?" she said. "We dated for three years and I never got a ring!"

In the words of Beyonce:

If you liked it then you shoulda put a ring on it … If you liked it then you shoulda put a ring on it … Uh oh, oh-oh-oh …. Uh-oh-oh, oh-oh-oh …

"In many ways, the workplace is much different than it was a decade ago, and a growing number of Americans are not just sitting back," Swartz said. "They're stepping up and taking charge of their careers."

(Read More: Is It Time to Quit Your Job?)

Of course, it's easy to blame The Company or The Man for keeping you down—and, for sure, they're involved. But most American workers started behind the eight ball, so to speak, before we even got to to the layoffs and heavier workload part.

A separate survey by USA Network (a sister network of CNBC, both owned by NBC Universal and Comcast) showed that just 79 percent of full-time working Americans are in jobs that reflect their true career passion. And roughly the same number admit that they have at some point thought about abandoning their field for something else. Most say they work to pay the bills and survive, while just 13 percent said they live to work.

And just 20% of those lucky enough to have their ideal position started off there.

"These findings reflect that many Americans feel trapped in their jobs," said Kurt Warner, a former NFL quarterback and Super Bowl MVP who is the host of USA's "The Moment," a show about giving someone a shot at his or her dream job.

"As someone who went from working in a grocery store to ultimately becoming an NFL quarterback, I encourage everybody to follow their dreams," Warner said. "The key to being happy in your job—and life—is to find your passion and live it. It's never too late to rewrite your life story."

Until then, cubicles across America will be filled with daydreams of better jobs—and winning the lottery.

And in case there were any illusions about employee happiness, consider this: Forty-two percent said if they won the lottery they would be outta here! and find another job; 32 percent said they would quit working altogether and 25 percent said they would stay put.

So, employers, your job is to identify the one in four (who would stay even if they won a lotto) and put a ring on it!

More From The Pony Blog at ponyblog.cnbc.com. Follow the Pony Blog on Twitter @ponyblog.

Contact Pony Blog

  • Cindy Perman is a writer at CNBC.com, covering jobs, real estate, retirement and personal finance.

  • Based in Los Angeles, Jane Wells is a CNBC business news reporter and also writes the Funny Business blog for CNBC.com.

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