Is your job a hazard to your health?
One of the big pieces of news this week is that the World Health Organization added processed meat to the dreaded “group 1” list of potential cancer-causers, right alongside tobacco and asbestos. Back away from the bacon!
For whatever reason, when “living right” comes up, we frequently talk about all the things we do away from the office—what we eat, how we exercise, when we sleep—but seldom about how we work.
“Should long and unpredictable hours, excessive job demands, capricious management and other aspects of the modern workplace be banned on the same ground [as secondhand smoke]?” Teresa Tritch asked in the New York Times blog.
Tritch cites findings from a study published in the Behavioral Science & Policy journal by a team of researchers from Harvard and Stanford. We’ve long known, of course, that stress can cause and exacerbate medical problems; the new study analyzes the risks associated with different forms of stress, from job insecurity to high-stress environments to unfair company policies.
“In all, the researchers calculated that workplace stress contributes to at least 120,000 deaths each year–comparable to the annual number of accidental deaths in the United States–and accounts for up to $190 billion in health care costs,” Tritch wrote. Unnecessarily long hours can be a real killer, linked to nearly a 20 percent increase in mortality.
A stress-free workplace is not imaginable outside, perhaps, of the realm of science fiction (if you have a completely stress-free but functional business, let us know). But the researchers do offer some tips for employers to help mitigate some of the ill effects of brutal schedules, uncertain futures, and work-life alignment.
“Top-down efforts to foster a more collegial and secure working environment may lead to happier and healthier workers,” wrote The Atlantic’s Gillian B. White, summarizing the study. “The researchers recommend company-wide events, and mentorship programs to help in tackling high stress levels for employees and the associated health costs for employers.”
We’ve previously offered advice for finding the right business mentorships and holding team-building exercises that actually work. If you’re looking to solve the other problem and find a palatable substitution for bacon, though, you’re on your own.