Have you ever been asked to donate to a “Stop Job Stress From Killing Us” walkathon?
Maybe besides fundraising for research into diseases like cancer and muscular dystrophy, we should also focus on reversing the damage done by unhealthy work environments.
The Atlantic’s recent article, “The Alarming, Long-Term Consequences of Workplace Stress” got me with this subhead: Health problems associated with job-related anxiety account for more deaths each year than Alzheimer’s disease or diabetes.
Gillian B. White writes:
A 2015 working paper from Harvard and Stanford Business Schools takes a look at 10 common job stressors: from lack of health insurance, to long working hours, to job insecurity. Researchers then considered how the mental and physical effects of these forms of stress related to mortality. The paper found that health problems stemming from job stress, like hypertension, cardiovascular disease, and decreased mental health, can lead to fatal conditions that wind up killing about 120,000 people each year—making work-related stressors and the maladies they cause, more deadly than diabetes, Alzheimer’s, or influenza.
High levels of stress are costly in monetary terms, too. Researchers found that stress-related health problems could be responsible for between 5 to 8 percent of annual health care costs in the U.S. That amounts to about $180 billion each year in health care expenses.
If you’ve been feeling that your job is eating you alive, it might actually be true.
White notes, for example:
- Those who lack health insurance suffer from financial stress, and they might put off medical treatment, which could put them at risk for illness or death.
- Erratic shifts and long hours can strain sleep schedules, lead to hypertension and increase occupational injuries.
- People who work at downsizing firms get sick twice as often as those who feel secure in their jobs.
What does this mean for us as individuals?
That if you feel high stress at your job, simply gritting your teeth and accepting it could make you sick … or worse.
Instead, it might be time to make a change. Maybe that’s getting a new job, or maybe it’s working with your boss or colleagues to figure out how to change what’s stressing you, whether that’s needing to be available 24/7 or having more work than you can reasonably juggle.
Or if you’re stuck at least temporarily in a stressful job situation, maybe it’s finding ways to manage your stress, such as eating better and getting more exercise, trying to get more sleep or meditating.
What does this mean to managers?
… workplace stress is a significant contributor to both health problems and costs. (Joel Goh, Harvard Business School assistant professor of business administration) hopes that by attaching hard numbers to these effects for the first time, policymakers might place more emphasis on investigating this connection.
At the same, time, employers can help address these problems by looking beyond health care programs to changes in their management and operations structures. “The workplace is where we spend a lot of the time—a third of our day,” says Goh. “It’s an avenue for stress and an avenue for ameliorating stress, and by and large the costs are borne by employers.”
It’s in the employers’ best interest to look into this connection, both for the good of their employees and for their own organizations.
“Companies are always looking for ways to control health costs in their organizations, and these costs are not small,” says Goh. “An integrated approach that looks at both management structures as well as internal health programs is the way forward to address these concerns.”