Back To Career News

Research: Some Work Stressors Can Be as ‘Harmful as Secondhand Smoke’

Topics: Data & Research
work stressors

You know from firsthand experience that work can take a toll on your body and spirit. But, did you know that in some cases it can actually be harmful to your health?

New research from Jeffrey Pfeffer, Ph.D., a professor at the Stanford Graduate School of Business, examines how certain work conditions can lead to health problems … even premature death.

Work can be dangerous

Pfeffer’s meta-analysis forms the basis of his 2018 book, Dying for a Paycheck: How Modern Management Harms Employee Health and Company Performance – and What We Can Do About It. In his book, Pfeffer contends that you don’t have to work in overtly dangerous conditions in order to be endangering your health and well-being at work.

In the overview on his website, he writes:

You don’t have to do a dangerous job—in coal mine or on a construction site, commercial fishing boat, or an oil rig—to endure a health-destroying, possibly life-threatening, workplace. Just ask the manager in a senior finance role whose immense workload, once handled by several employees, required frequent all-nighters—leading to alcohol and drug addiction. Or the dedicated news media producer whose commitment to getting the story resulted in a sixty-pound weight gain thanks to having no down time to eat properly or exercise. Or the marketing professional prescribed antidepressants a week after joining her employer.

Other research has also found certain workplace elements to be especially harmful. For example, a difficult boss colors everything about your work experience. As many as 50 to 75 percent of employees say they’ve left a job because of a difficult boss.

Also, recent research from Future Workplace found that access to natural light and views of the outdoors mattered more to workers than popular perks like cafeterias or onsite fitness centers.

Do You Know What You're Worth?

Some conditions are especially harmful

Some characteristics Pfeffer identified as being particularly harmful. Here are a few examples of work-related factors that he says can impact health and even longevity:

  • Working shifts and also working longer periods, e.g. 10 or 12-hours shifts
  • Working long hours in a week, e.g. more than 40 hours per week.
  • Job insecurity (resulting from colleagues being laid off or fired).
  • Having relatively low control over one’s job.
  • Facing high work demands such as pressure to increase productivity and to work quickly.

The impact of these and other stressors can be as “harmful as secondhand smoke,” according to Pfeffer.

Unfortunately, the reality of modern working life means that many employees face some of these stressors. In the end though, no one benefits, not even the company.

“Even as organizations allow management practices that literally sicken and sometimes kill their employees, those policies do not enhance productivity or the bottom line,” the overview continues. “Instead, they diminish employee engagement, increase turnover, reduce job performance—and drive up health costs.”

Thankfully, increased awareness can lead to real change. Individuals and organizations would be wise to pay close attention to these factors and examine how they affect workers and, in turn, the bottom line.

Tell Us What You Think

Do you face work stressors that have the potential to damage your health? We want to hear from you! Leave a comment or join the discussion on Twitter.

Leave a Reply

Notify of
What Am I Worth?

What your skills are worth in the job market is constantly changing.