MNA Lifestyle Desk: In 2015, an analysis of almost 300 studies found that harmful workplace practices were as bad for mortality and as likely to lead to a physician-diagnosed illness, as second-hand smoke, a known – and regulated – carcinogen.
Harmful workplace practices include things like long working hours, work-family conflict, and economic insecurity arising from job losses and not having regular or predictable work hours, an absence of job control and, in the US, not having health insurance.
The workplace is making people sick and even killing them – and people should care. With rising health-care costs all over the world, the workplace has become an important public health problem.
Chronic disease comes from stress and the unhealthy behaviors such as smoking, drinking, taking drugs and overeating that stress induces. Numerous surveys show that the workplace is a leading cause of stress, and it is thus one important cause of the health care crisis.
Long working hours are negatively related to per-hour productivity at the both the national and industry level. Although it may seem counterintuitive, layoffs or redundancies do not improve organizational performance and often drive the best employees to leave, and because of direct costs such as severance and indirect costs such as losing people with strong relationships with customers, frequently do not even save money. For decades research has shown that giving people more control over how and when they do their jobs increases motivation and engagement.
Not surprisingly, stressed employees are more likely to quit – and turnover is expensive. And systematic research demonstrates what ought to be obvious – sick, stressed employees aren’t as proficient or productive in their work as those that are healthier.
Workers often face fluctuating incomes and don’t have much ability to arrange for coping with family responsibilities. Few leaders seem to understand that when people come to work for them, those individuals have placed their physical and psychological well-being in the leaders’ hands.
People get paid time off and are expected to use it. Managers don’t send e-mails or texts at all hours – people work, go home and have time to relax and refresh. The organizations offer accommodations so that people can have both a job and a family life. People are treated like adults and have control over what they do and how they do it to meet their job responsibilities, not micromanaged.
Most importantly, the companies are led by individuals who take their obligations to their people seriously. SAS Institute has a chief health officer whose job is not just to control costs but also to ensure employees are as healthy as possible. Bob Chapman recognizes that everyone who comes to work at Barry-Wehmiller is “someone’s precious child” or family member.
People need to choose their employer not just for salary and promotion opportunities but on the basis of whether the job will be good for their psychological and physical health. Business leaders should measure the health of their workforce, not just profits.
And governments concerned about the health-care cost crisis need to focus on the workplace, because workplace stress is clearly making people sick. None of this necessary – no one should be dying for a paycheck.