It seems a life-time ago when stress management courses were de rigueur and people, including me, were making a living from them. (Now it’s either resilience training or mindfulness but that’s another story).
There was plenty of research about to back up what we were doing. The famous Whitehall studies which showed that the more senior you were the less likely you were to die early. In industry after industry it was the same story. Employees at the bottom of the hierarchy suffered more ill-health than more senior ones.
One of the factors contributing to this was the amount of control people had – over decision-making and the way they spent their working day. The more control or autonomy people felt they had, the less stressed they tended to be.
Now a recent study in the US has confirmed once again that people in stressful jobs with little control at work were more likely to die.
The research followed more than 2,000 Americans in their sixties over a seven-year period.
Those in low demand jobs reduced their death risk by 15% and those who were able to set their own goals and had flexibility at work were 34% less likely to die.
They also found that the people in the higher risk jobs were heavier. Comfort eating? Less time for exercise?
26% of those who dies were in front-line service jobs and 32% worked in manufacturing – both sectors with high demand and low autonomy.
55% of the deaths were from cancer (linked this week with high levels of anxiety and depression), and 22% from circulatory system diseases.
Erik Gonzales-Mulé at the Kelley School of Business at Indiana University said employers didn’t need to reduce demand on their workers but should allow them more flexibility in how jobs were done. “You can avoid the negative health consequences if you allow them to set their own goals. set their own schedules, prioritise their decision-making and the like”.
I’m having deja vu here.This is like re-inventing the wheel. We knew all this decades ago. Remember autonomous working groups? Have American businesses forgotten about US contributions to organisational psychology and research on motivation? In America most workers still don’t get sick pay or maternity pay and have minimal holidays.
Japan has its own problems with employees working too hard (see recent post)
And we aren’t much better in some respects in the UK with the worst sick pay in the EU!
Recently experts and members of parliament have expressed concern about working conditions in call centres and on-line distribution centres. Sports Direct and Asos have been criticised for having Victorian working conditions. Some of these places are like “warehouses” on the edge of towns with no windows for natural light, just like giant container units.
Perhaps I should brush off my old notes and get back on the road again. Why do businesses never learn how to get the best out of people?
In the search for a better work-life balance some people are giving up their traditional jobs and building up a portfolio of part-time jobs instead.
Portfolio working was a term coined by Charles Handy back in the 1980s which has now been replaced by the “gig economy“.
With the developments in new technology and easier access to free wi-fi in coffee bars (but not to our shame in most hotels) people who were once described as Nomads were the exception. Freelance consultants or trainers in the main.
But attitudes have changed and young people, stay-at-home Mums, and those approaching retirement or who have retired i.e. not middle-aged people with a mortgage to worry about, a make up an increasing proportion of the workforce – already a third in the USA – opting to work in this way.
Uber, the taxi service, says many of its drivers have other jobs or are students (I remember when firefighters used to work as taxi-drivers among other things in their time off). Although working from home has become more popular, not everyone thinks this way including, perhaps surprisingly, Generation Y employees.
The desire for flexibility, and I would say control over the work they do, is what seems to be driving this trend. Together with the unavailability of traditional jobs for those in this segment of the economy.
The research behind this story was carried out by the UK Commission for Employment and Skills
He takes us back to the work of Harlow (more famous for his surrogate monkey mother experiments), McGregor’s “Theory X, theory Y“, and Type A/B theory.
He reports numerous studies showing that altruistic behaviour can be tainted by financial incentives and suggests that financial incentives only work for certain kinds of work and that even then over the long run they don’t – remember Herzberg’s 2-factor theory?
He asks why people contribute to Wikipedia and devote hours to work for which they receive no financial recompense. It’s not always about the money.
In fact he believes that it’s more about Autonomy, Mastery and Purpose.
He suggests that you can be a Type I or a Type X which he describes as:
Type I behavior: A way of thinking and an approach to life built around intrinsic, rather than extrinsic, motivators. It is powered by our innate need to direct our own lives, to learn and create new things, and to do better by ourselves and our world.
Type X behavior: Behavior that is fuelled more by extrinsic desires than intrinsic ones and that concerns itself less with the inherent satisfaction of an activity and more with the external rewards to which that activity leads.
If you want to know which you are, go to his web-site and complete a free self-assessment questionnaire.
And if you haven’t seen his presentation on motivation on RSAnimate on Youtube it’s here.