Researchers from Harvard Business School and Stanford University have found that work stress can damage our health as much as exposure to second-hand cigarette smoke.

According to the research, workers who have high job demands are 50% more likely to be diagnosed with a medical condition and this could be, for example, an increased risk of heart disease.

One of the authors of the study, Joel Goh did say that there has been extensive research into the causes of workplace-induced stress. The team conducted a meta-analysis of 228 studies that looked at the effects of work stressors and these were job insecurity, high job demands, work-family conflict, and long work hours and these were based on four health outcomes. The health outcomes were the presence of a diagnosed medical condition, self-reported poor mental, self-reported physical health and mortality.

The findings of this analysis found that those employees who had high job demands were 50% more likely to be diagnosed with a medical condition than those without this stressor. Job insecurity found that there was a 50% greater risk of poor physical and mental health. Long working hours were associated with a 20% greater mortality risk. The findings also found that the presence of workplace stressors predicted negative health outcomes almost as exposure to second-hand smoke does.

The team also compared the health effects of work stressors with those of second-hand smoke exposure, finding that the health outcomes of each factor were similar.

Goh stated that ‘the results of our meta-analysis show that workplace stressors generally increased the odds of poor health outcomes to approximately the same extent as exposure to second-hand smoke”.  Goh and colleagues say that as well as having a focus on improving health behaviours in the workplace, policymakers should address workplace practices that contribute to job-induced stress.

To identify and manage the source of stress is essential to improve the overall wellbeing of employees.

The Stress Risk Assessment process is a proactive method to identify the cause of stress at an organisational and individual level. I advise on how to use the tool effectively for an individual or for an organisation. The results are positive and does help to reduce stress at an organisational level once the source of stress has been clearly identified. Unless the root cause is identified, an organisation will continue to have issues around stress and stress-related conditions.


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