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Workplace Stress As Deadly As Second Hand Smoke: Study

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A new study found that the stress experienced by employees inside the workplace may result in health outcomes comparable to that of second hand smoking, which is a health threat that has urged policymakers to combat its effects.

Previous comprehensive research have focused on the stresses brought about by the workplace; however, analysis on the effects of psychosocial stress including tight deadlines, long work hours and economic stability have not been extensively tackled. In this new study conducted by experts from the Harvard Business School and Stanford University, the authors performed a quantitative investigation about the in-depth evidences pertaining to the relationship of workplace stressors and employee health.

The researchers performed a meta-analysis of 228 previous studies that evaluated the impact of 10 workplace stressors to four health outcomes. The 10 stressors assessed include extended working hours, shifting schedule, work-family dilemmas, work control, job demand, social assistance, social networking chances, organizational fairness, health insurance benefits and employment status (economic security). The four health outcomes with which these stressors were studied with include diagnosis of any medical disease/ condition, poor physical health perception of the self, poor mental health perception of the self and lastly, death.

The results of the study, published in the Behavioral Science and Policy Association, showed that the identified workplace stressors generally elevated the chance of people to have poor health prognoses that are similar to the degree of second hand smoke exposure. Specifically, the researchers were able to find that high-level demands at work may increase the risk of people to be diagnosed with a medical condition by 35 percent, extended work hours may increase the chance of mortality by 20 percent and lastly, having an unstable employment status such as losing jobs may up the risk of poor health by approximately 50 percent.

"When you think about how much time individuals typically spend at work, it's not that surprising," says Joel Goh, study co-author and a business administration assistant professor at the Harvard Business School. Through this study, he hopes that business owners and company executives may be urged to review their employee management strategies. While more rapid and longer work hours may look like the perfect recipe to increased productivity, in reality, this might not be the case, he adds.

In the end, the authors concluded that stresses brought about my psychosocial factors are significant indicators of health and that this finding warrants various suggestions to policymakers. More than health-improvement interventions such as exercise programs, one recommendation made by the researchers is to implement job redesign efforts and eradicate workplace customs that may add to work-related stresses. They also suggested more comprehensive attempts to obtain information regarding workplace stresses and health outcomes within the organization and across the entire nation. As the experts have noticed, although this subject of study has long been recognized to be existent, no national, longitudinal, individual-level researches had been performed across the U.S. regarding this matter.

Photo: Katy Warner | Flickr

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