Working long hours, night shifts or feeling the stress of impending lay-offs can actually make employees less productive by increasing rates of illness and injury, according to new research. Two studies published in the April issue of the Journal of Occupational Health Psychology suggests job-related stress can negatively affect workers’ physical as well as mental health.
The first study examined the impact of the threat of lay-offs on workers in a food-processing plant and found employees who feared they might be laid off were less likely to follow safety procedures–increasing the risk of injury and accidents. “Employees who felt that they were more insecure and felt that those jobs were threatened were also the ones who tended to have lower motivation to comply with safety policy, less knowledge about safety procedures and eventually had higher rates of accidents and injuries,” says study author Tahira Probst, PhD, assistant professor of psychology at Washington State University.
Probst says the finding suggest that employers should be clear in communicating to their employees during transitional periods that safety is not only emphasized but considered as part of the worker’s overall performance. That way Probst says, “employees realize that safety is of concern, and it’s not just production that management is looking at.”
In the second study, researchers asked 2,048 workers from across the country about the impact of their job on their physical and mental health. They found that employees who reported serious on-going job stress and pressure, working long hours and more shift work said their job had a more negative effect on their mental and physical health. “The people who were working a lot of overtime, more than 45-plus hours a week, were reporting much more negatively. Whereas the people who were working less than 35 hours a week were reporting much more positively,” says study author Susan Ettner, PhD, associate professor at the University of California at Los Angeles School of Medicine.
Ettner says employers are slowly becoming more interested in link between health status and productivity and the results of this study show that there may be some ways employers can provide an environment that fosters good health. For example, people who were self-employed reported more positive effects of their job on their health, largely because they tended to have more control over the decision-making process and more opportunity to learn new job skills. Ettner says that means employers could try to emulate those kinds of job characteristics within the workplace environment. “They could give their employees more say over how they control their work flow or work environment. They could give employees more of a chance to learn and use new skills on the job,” says Ettner.
Maynard Brusman is a consulting psychologist in the San Francisco Bay area and says many of the pink-slipped dot-commers that come to see him are now trying to get back into the health habits that were discouraged by working long hours under stressful conditions. “It’s like a silver lining,” says Brusman, about the recent surge of white-collar lay-offs. He says there is a lot of anxiety about where things are going in the future, and having some time off due to layoffs can help workers reconnect with what they really find valuable in their lives. “The people that are more resilient can maybe step back and reflect and reevaluate their lives,” says Brusman, who operates the consulting firm Working Solutions. “The ones that aren’t may need some help or coaching to take a look at it and they might not be able to bounce back so easily.”
Article By: Jennifer Warner