Workers Health & Safety Centre

Personal coping not the solution for deadly work-related stress, says new study

Stressed worker wearing headset and looking at computer screen
Workplace stressors increase health risks to the same extent as second hand smoke and yet employers are not targeting their prevention, according to a recent study.
Researchers from the Harvard Business School and Stanford University who performed this scientific review of more than 200 studies found that job insecurity, long working hours, job control and other workplace stressors can damage workers health and even lead to death. Specific examples cited included:
  • long work hours increased the chance of early death by 20 per cent,
  • high job demands raise the odds of having a physician-diagnosed illness by 35 per cent, and
  • job insecurity increased the odds of reporting poor health by 50 per cent.

Anxiety, sleep disorders, depression and other mental illnesses/injuries are just a few examples of illness and poor health caused by stress. Research also suggests stress is a significant contributing factor to other health impacts ranging from the common cold and musculoskeletal disorders to heart disease and cancer.
In this report, entitled Workplace stressors and health outcomes: Health policy for the workplace, the authors’ note many employers continue to focus almost exclusively on behavioural lifestyle and health choices as a means of coping with stress. Little attention, they say, is paid to prevention through identifying and eliminating workplace causes of stress.    
"Wellness programs are great at doing what they're designed to do. But they're targeting employee behavior, not targeting the cause of stress,” says Joel Goh, co-author of the report and assistant professor, business administration, Harvard Business School. “There are two sides of the equation and right now we focus on one side. We're trying to call attention to the other side [of the equation], which is the effect of managerial practices."
The researchers offered insight in terms of workplace stress prevention including job redesigns that limit work hours, reducing unpredictable work hours and shift work, along with the use of flexible work schedules designed to help achieve a better work-life balance.
Further recommendations highlight the need for government regulatory action addressing work stressors. They also cite non-regulatory efforts to help raise awareness among employers and workers about the link between workplace stressors and health impacts to help further prompt prevention efforts. They referenced current European Union efforts through the European Framework Agreement on Work-Related Stress. 

In conclusion, the researchers suggest “Unless and until companies and governments more rigorously measure and intervene to reduce harmful workplace stressors, efforts to improve people’s health—and lives—and reduce health care costs will be limited in their effectiveness.”
For our part, the Workers Health and Safety Centre continues to assist workplace parties through training programs and information services aimed at raising awareness about stress and targeting prevention at the workplace level.
To learn more:
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Call 1-888-869-7950 and ask to speak to a WHSC training services representative.
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