killer jobs

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"We hear about killers all the time," intones Derek Beres at the beginning of his BigThink piece, such as "cancer; opioids; heart attack; stroke; traffic accidents:"

Yet there's another murderer that one Stanford professor [Jeffrey Pfeffer, author of Dying for a Paycheck: How Modern Management Harms Employee Health and Company Performance--and What We Can Do About It] claims to be the fifth-leading cause of death in America, claiming over 120,000 lives and between 5 and 8 percent of annual health care costs: your job.

The study est

imates that "two million instances of workplace violence occur every year, with many cases going unreported:"

While the number of workplace murders is dropping slightly, he argues that a different type of violence is being conducted. A lot of emphases is placed on physical health and injury avoidance, yet little regard is paid to our mental and emotional health.

Beres writes that "the growing income divide is an obvious catalyst," but there are other factors:

Fewer people are doing more work for less pay as an elite few take more and more of the earnings. Many modern jobs provide no sense of meaning; if you feel easily replaceable your appreciation of the work will be nonexistent. Factor in the struggles of our health care system and, well, as Pfeffer says,
Job engagement, according to Gallup, is low. Distrust in management, according to the Edelman trust index, is high. Job satisfaction, according to the Conference Board, is low and has been in continual decline. The gig economy is growing, economic insecurity is growing, and wage growth overall has stagnated. Fewer people are covered by employer-sponsored health insurance than in the past, according to Kaiser Foundation surveys. And a strikingly high percentage of people, even those covered by insurance, say they forgo treatment and medications because of cost issues.

Economic need is, of course, cited as "the first reason many people persist in the jobs that are killing them:"

Beyond that, company prestige, challenging work, inertia, and pride are all attributed to keeping workers put. Leaving a position is a blow to self-esteem; some would rather "tough it out" than admit failure, even if in the process their health is sacrificed. This confusing paradox is made all the worse by its persistence across occupations.

"What's worse," Beres writes, is that "this toxicity has become normalized:"

In the manic demand for maximal productivity, most businesses fail to realize that they'll lose more money--estimates are at $300 billion-- when their employees are suffering from chronic stress. Calling out these "social polluters" arms workers and the public with a powerful tool for shaming executives and boards into making better decisions, a trend Pfeffer hopes will grow.

Good health, he notes, goes beyond the advertising fluff known as wellness programs offered during lunchtime or after work. He is quite clear these do not work:

Wellness programs are an attempt to remediate the harmful effects of what's going on in the workplace. Instead of remediation you need to prevent. Instead of causing you to over-smoke and over-drink and over-eat and under-exercise because of what goes on in the workplace, and then giving you a wellness program, they should change the underlying work conditions.

[Feel free to pass this suggestion along to your HR department--anonymously, of course.]

WaPo's Jena McGregor interviewed Pfeffer about his work, which he summarized like this:

I enlisted two operations research colleagues to help, and we did a meta analysis on all the literature and they did some fancy modeling. We found that there are basically 120,000 excess deaths per year attributed to these ten workplace conditions and they cause approximately $190 billion in incremental health care costs. That would make the workplace the fifth leading cause of death in the U.S. -- higher than Alzheimer's, higher than kidney disease.

"We focused on the physical environment" in mitigating workplace safety issues, says Pfeffer, during the interview, "and we now need to focus on the social environment:"

We have said to companies they cannot pass costs [of environmental damage] on to the broader society. We have not done that with respect to health. I would argue that it's actually maybe harder to measure smokestack emissions than it is to measure healthy work conditions. If we wanted to regulate it, we could regulate it.

Stanford Business' Dylan Walsh interviews Pfeffer, who says, "I've seen nothing inconsistent with the statement that the workplace has generally gotten worse:"

I look out at the workplace and I see stress, layoffs, longer hours, work-family conflict, enormous amounts of economic insecurity. I see a workplace that has become shockingly inhumane.

Pfeffer identifies "many issues" in the reluctance of workers to leave for safer jobs elsewhere:

One simple one that we should never overlook is sheer exhaustion. Finding a job is itself a job. If you are physically or psychologically drained by workplace stress, then you're not going to have the capacity to go out and look for another job.

Companies also play to our egos. They say, "What's wrong with you? Aren't you good enough? We're a special organization. We're changing the world and only certain people are going to be up for the task." Who wants to admit they're not good enough?

And we are influenced by what we see our peers doing. I've had people say to me: "I look around and all my colleagues are working themselves to death. What makes me think I'm so special that I don't have to?" We have come to normalize the unacceptable. It's hideous.

It's like Stockholm Syndrome, but the paychecks are the shackles. "I want to wake people up," writes Pfeffer:

This is a serious issue that has serious consequences for corporate performance and for people's well-being. We should care about people's psychological and physical health, not just about profits.

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This page contains a single entry by cognitivedissident published on March 30, 2018 10:53 AM.

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