Wellness policies often ignore the role of the workplace environment

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StressA new meta analysis compiled by researchers from Harvard Business School and Stanford University raises questions about the way Government and organisational policies designed to tackle the problems of work related health costs in the United States have largely ignored the health effects of ‘psychosocial workplace stressors’ such as high job demands, economic insecurity, and long work hours. The analysis of 228 existing studies assessed the effects of ten workplace stressors on four specific health outcomes. The researchers claims that job insecurity increases the odds of reporting poor health by about 50 percent, high job demands raise the odds of having a diagnosed illness by 35 percent, and long work hours increase mortality by almost 20 percent. They argue that any policies designed to address these issues should account for the health effects of the workplace environment.

The ten key stressors identified by the report’s authors include things like long working hours, shift work, low social support and lack of employer-provided healthcare. They then assessed these against four health outcomes: self-rated poor physical health, self-rated poor mental health, physician-diagnosed health problems, and death. The report concludes that: “Although the dangers emanating from the psychological and social conditions of work are not as visible[as in the manual labour of the  past], they can also be quite harmful to health. Unless and until companies and governments more rigorously measure and intervene to reduce harmful workplace stressors, efforts to improve people’s health—and their lives—and reduce health care costs will be limited in their effectiveness.

The report, Workplace Stressors & Health Outcomes: Health Policy for the Workplace was co-authored by Joel Goh, Jeffrey Pfeffer and Stefanos A Zenios and published in the journal of the Behavioral Science and Policy Association this month.

“When you think about how much time individuals typically spend at work, it’s not that surprising,” the study’s co-author Joel Goh, assistant professor of business administration at Harvard Business School, said in an interview in Boston.com. “Wellness programmes are great at doing what they’re designed to do, but they’re targeting employee behaviour, not the cause of stress,” he said.

“Assuming an employer cares about their employees for benevolent or bottom line reasons, we think this is something many employers haven’t thought about. We’re trying to say employers have a new control they weren’t aware about.”