You don’t have to be a research scientist to know that stress has a big impact our lives. Also, if you’re living in the U.S., it shouldn’t come as a surprise that workplace stress is extremely common here. In fact, work is by far the most common source of stress for Americans. Although we all experience this phenomenon a little differently, research can help us identify patterns that could help us reduce stress and its negative effects.
A paper from Indiana University Kelly School of Business, Worked to Death: The Relationship of Job Demands and Job Control With Mortality, investigates the relationship between job stress and its most dire consequence while also exploring the role control plays in this complex equation. Let’s take a closer look at the most significant findings from this research.
People in high-stress jobs often have little control over their work flow.
One of the first findings detailed in the report is that workers in high-stress environments frequently have less control over the pace and timing of their work than other workers do. For example, folks working high-stress jobs often have to meet project deadlines on timelines imposed from above. Or, they’re less connected to the consequences of their work than people in less stressful jobs. Often, high-stress jobs come with less control over workflow, and that compounds the difficulty of working in one of these positions.
Workers with high stress and low control are more likely to die prematurely.
Researchers used a sample of 2,363 Wisconsin residents in their 60s over a seven-year time period to investigate the relationship between work stress, control, and mortality. The results are striking. They found that individuals who work at jobs where they have a lot of stress but not a lot of control have a 15.4 percent higher likelihood of death when compared with others in low-stress jobs.
But, the opposite was also true.
In some ways it’s really not that surprising that high-stress, low-control jobs are more likely to lead to premature death than other kinds of work. But, researchers also unlocked another really interesting piece of this puzzle. They found that workers who have demanding, stressful jobs but who also have a lot of control over their work actually experience a 34 percent decrease in the likelihood of death when compared with workers with low demand jobs. For these workers, having a lot of control over their work allows them to use their stress in a different kind of way — a way which actually works to their benefit.
“Stressful jobs cause you to find ways to problem-solve and work through ways to get the work done. Having high control gives you the resources you need to do that,” Erik Gonzalez-Mule told the IUB Newsroom. “A stressful job then, instead of being something debilitating, can be something that’s energizing. You’re able to set your own goals, you’re able to prioritize work. You can go about deciding how you’re going to get it done. That stress then becomes something you enjoy.”
Control is key.
The big takeaway here is that having control over a high-stress job goes a long way toward mitigating the harmful effects of stress. Managers and decision makers should take this research seriously when deciding on workplace structures and policies. It would benefit workers to give them more control when possible. Similarly, workers should take these findings to heart and consider them when making career decisions. High-stress jobs aren’t really the danger as much as high-stress jobs coupled with low control.
Be sure to check out the full report, Worked to Death: The Relationship of Job Demands and Job Control With Mortality for more information.
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