Stanford professor says toxic workplaces could be causing deaths. Here’s what to know

by | May 10, 2018 | Jobs Featured

Your workplace has you tired and strung out… But could it be harming your health? Stanford’s Jeffrey Pfeffer explores this theory in his recently published book, Dying for a Paycheck.

Published in March of 2018, the book delves into modern management and whether it harms the health of employees. Pfeffer is a professor who has taught organizational behavior at Stanford U’s business school. According to his research conclusions, 120,000 deaths in the US could be attributed to poor workplace conditions. For instance, an employee who needs to choose between work or family. Or cases where employees have no health insurance from their workplace, etc.

In theory, this would put the workplace as the sixth leading cause of death in the US.If this is the case, what can be done about it?

Workplace culture under close scrutiny

According to author Jessica Pryce-Jones, in her book Happiness At Work, employees spend approx. 90,000 hours at work in their lifetimes. With almost a third of our lives spent at a workplace, regulations and the behaviors of others have the power to affect us as much as our home life.

Not astonishingly, current workplace practices and behaviors have been under scrutiny. It is not only Professor Pfeffer who is sounding the alarm over present workplaces issues across the United States.

Sexual harassment in the workplace took center stage last year through the #MeToo movement. Astonishing figures came to light of the number of people who had experienced inappropriate behavior at work. One national survey that tried to pin down the numbers reported 81 percent of females and 43 percent of males who had some kind of harassment story.

But there are other workplace concerns that have made the news. According to Cary Kane, a lawyer focusing on unpaid overtime or wages, ” Workers in New York City are protected by both federal and state laws mandating that people be fairly compensated. Under these laws, people are guaranteed at least a minimum wage for work they do and, in certain cases, for one and a half times their hourly wage for work performed more than 40 hours during a week. Unfortunately, wage theft – paying people less than the law requires – is rampant.”

The physical health aspect of work environments

Workplace safety is regulated. But can the physical health of employees be required as an employer responsibility? And should it?

For instance, policing employees’ diets to ensure good health is a controversial topic. As noted in a poll by the Society for Human Resources Management.Mark Schmitt, SHRM director, notes, “HR professionals walk a fine line between creating initiatives to help employees and acting like the food police.”But employees can do their part by providing healthier food and drink options in the cafeteria.

What other areas can employers focus on to promote the health and well-being of employees? In a keynote given a couple years prior to the publishing of his book, Pfeffer listed 7 top factors that directly influence employee health.

Job design. For example, how much control an employee can have over one’s work.

Overtime and number of hours worked. Does the employer allow for days worked from home? Or other flexible options regarding scheduling?

Social support. Does the employer provide avenues for social support?

Work and family commitments conflict. Is the employer flexible when it comes to resolving work/family scheduling conflicts?

Fairness and justice at work. Does the employer take employees’ perceived wrongs seriously?

Layoffs and economic insecurity. Is the employer upfront about the state of the company’s stability?

Health insurance. Does the employer offer health insurance?

Employers who are serious about healthy employees should find a way to target each of these issues.

Mental health figures show mental illness an issue for employees and employers

Figures provided by the National Institute of Mental Health showed that 1 in 5 Americans has a mental health issue. Mental health illnesses cost employers and businesses up to $17 billion each year. A report provided by the National Business Group on Health also noted that 217 million work days were lost due to mental health issues.

Some employers have mental health policies that allow workers to take time off if they are feeling burned out. Others use more unorthodox methods of allowing employees time to decompress. An effective health program means healthier workers. And as the Harvard Business Review reminds us, workers who are happy and healthy at work are more productive.

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