Stress at work can make you sick!


PEORIA, Ill. (PAI) – A third of U.S. workers feel often or always stressed by their jobs, and such jobs cause not only mental problems, but also physical and even financial woes – for employers as well as for workers.

According to the most recent General Social Survey by the University of Chicago’s National Opinion Research Center, some 13 percent of workers find their jobs are always stressful and another 21 percent find their jobs are often stressful. That’s 34 percent, total.

But working for unreasonable or incompetent bosses isn’t merely tough on emotions, adds British scientist Nadia Wager of the Buckinghamshire Chilterns University College. It can lead to serious health woes.

Besides depression and anxiety, such employees face a higher incidence of diabetes, high blood pressure, heart disease, obesity, headaches and danger to pregnancies, she says.

“Supervisors who are untrusting, disrespectful and practice favoritism have the most potential to raise employees’ blood pressure,” Wager wrote in “Discover” magazine. “Sustained elevations in blood pressure throughout the working day are likely to degrade the cardiovascular system.”

Suppressing anger is no answer either, adds St. Louis University researcher Robert Nicholson. His colleagues at the university’s School of Medicine found that withholding frustrations can trigger headaches for those susceptible to this malady.

“Companies treat workers as commodities rather than investments,” says economist Howard Rosen of the Peterson Institute for International Economics, a D.C. think tank. All this is costly, too – to business as well as to workers, and in other nations as well as in the U.S. For example, Australia’s economy loses $730 million a year to job-linked depression alone, says the University of Melbourne’s report. It measured the price tag from a total of lost productive time, government-subsidized health care and medications, and replacement costs.

That figure underestimates the total cost, said Melbourne Professor Tony La Montagne. He noted the difficulty in estimating the costs from job insecurity, sexual harassment, bullying and related factors.

“Employers would be the major beneficiaries of reducing job strain over the long term, because the greatest costs fall on employers due to lost productivity and employee replacement,” he added.

Elsewhere, the Boston research firm of Kinder, Lyndenberg, Domini and Associates (KLD), has compiled data for 19 years about the gap between workers’ wages and executive pay. That’s relevant to stress on the job, too.

The larger the disparity between management and rank-and-file pay, the more likely managers are “to objectify lower-level employees,” according to analysis for KLD done by Professors Jennifer George of Rice University, Sreedhari Desar of Harvard and Arthur Brief of the University of Utah.

Their result: “Moral disengagement” and an “exaggerated power asymmetry” that contributes to people with power being difficult or bad-tempered towards those with less power. Such a loss of balance and perspective, the three professors said, intensities as pay gaps continue to grow between CEOs and their labor forces.

Such illogical or arrogant management approaches could help explain why corporations, in the last two years, have laid off far more workers than the economic downturn justifies.

For instance, the Great Recession is generally thought to have started in December, 2007, after which real aggregate output in the U.S., gauged by Gross Domestic Product, declined by about 2.5 percent. But companies over that same period cut their workforces by 6 percent.

“Corporations are making out like bandits,” commented New York Times columnist Bob Herbert. He quoted Northeastern University economist Andrew Sum as saying this lingering economic crisis “has seen the most lopsided gains in corporate profits relative to real wages and salaries in our history.”

That’s an observation that could make most workers sick.

Photo: Stressed out,  cc 2.0




Bill Knight
Bill Knight

Bill Knight is a freelance writer, syndicated columnist, and contributor to the Peoria monthlies Community Word and The Labor Paper.