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?
They produced 20% less per hour than other members of the G7 countries (advanced economies) and had the worst results since records began in 1991 according to the National Statistics Office (NSO).
The Governor of the Bank of England describes productivity as “the ultimate determinant of people’s incomes and with it the capacity of our economy to support health, wealth, and happiness”
Britain has fallen behind since the financial crisis with Germany, France and the USA all producing a third more last year. Italy produced 10% more and Canada 4% more. Only Japan produced less.
The TUC is worried that “Without a step change in productive growth, the UK economy will struggle to deliver secure jobs and higher living standards”
There are signs that productivity is slowly increasing and unemployment here is lower than some EU countries. What the report doesn’t mention is the grey economy which our neighbours across the channel say is what attracts immigrants to our shores. If that work was factored in would it make a difference?
Hard to tell but with stress on the increase again and employee engagement figures well below 50% it’s hard to see how companies can encourage employees to work harder. After all that’s what productivity is; getting more out of workers for the same or fewer hours worked.
Well scientists at Oxford University now believe it’s the worst thing you can do.
Sleep is known to help consolidate memories so they are suggesting that sleep deprivation might be desirable in reducing long-term psychological effects by impairing those memories.
In an experiment two groups were shown a disturbing film which included a suicide. One group went to bed as normal while the other was kept awake by staff trained to stop them falling asleep.
In the days that followed all the participants were asked how often images from the film popped into their heads. The ones that slept were found to be more likely to experience flashbacks.
Professor Foster said “Maybe the routine treatment after such events should be gently to keep people awake – to sit with them and chat to them“. At present patients are often sedated after such events to help them sleep.
He also referred to experiences after battles in early cultures when it was more likely that the tradition was to sit round campfire celebrating the event with alcohol.
Post traumatic stress (PTSD) can cause a number of problems for those suffering from it. Not just the flashbacks but problems concentrating, irritability and a heightened startle response.
A recent American study showed that women under 65 who had suffered traumatic experiences and had four or more symptoms of PTSD were 60% more likely to suffer a heart attack or stroke in later life.
Even those without any symptoms but who had suffered some trauma were 45% more likely to suffer cardiovascular disease compared to women who hadn’t been exposed to traumatic events.
Karestan Koenen of Columbia University said “Our results provide further evidence that PTSD increase the risk of chronic disease. The medical system needs to stop treating the mind and the body as if they were separate.Patients need access to integrated mental and physical care”