Many of us know that a stressful job or work environment can be hard on our physical and mental health. But what is less known - and less studied - is how work-related stress translates into deaths and dollars spent on health care. According to new research, work-related stress may be linked to more than 120,000 deaths per year and about $190 billion in health-care costs in the United States alone.
In a study submitted to Management Science, former Stanford doctoral student Joel Goh, PhD, and Stanford professors Jeffrey Pfeffer, PhD, and Stefanos A. Zenios, PhD, reviewed 228 studies to explore the relationships between ten common sources of workplace stress, mortality and healthcare expenses in the U.S.
The researchers found that a lack of health insurance and job insecurity were among the top stressors linked to poor physical and emotional health. From a recent Stanford Business story:
Job insecurity increased the odds of reporting poor health by 50%, while long work hours increased mortality by almost 20%. Additionally, highly demanding jobs raised the odds of a physician-diagnosed illness by 35%.
“The deaths are comparable to the fourth- and fifth-largest causes of death in the country — heart disease and accidents,” says Zenios, a professor of operations, information, and technology. “It’s more than deaths from diabetes, Alzheimer’s, or influenza.”
Perhaps the most surprising result, the researchers explain, was the strong effect of psychological stressors on overall health:
Employees who reported that their work demands prevented them from meeting their family obligations or vice versa were 90% more likely to self-report poor physical health, the researchers note. And employees who perceive their workplaces as being unfair are about 50% more likely to develop a physician-diagnosed condition.
The researchers acknowledge that the study has some limitations. For example, they were unable to make strong causal links between work-related stress, mortality and health-care expenses; and they only examined 10 sources of stress. The importance of the study, Pfeffer explains, is that it draws attention to the need to create positive work environments where people feel good about themselves and their work.
Previously: How the stress of our "always on" culture can impact performance, health and happiness, Study finds happy employees are 12 percent more productive, Workplace stress and how it influences health and How work stress affects wellness, health-care costs
Photo by Bernard Goldbach