Are Our Workplaces Killing Us? Here Are Some Ways to Make Sure They Don't (Video)


Prof. Jeffrey Pfeffer is pretty clear on this: Not only are workplaces incredibly stressful, but they may also be slowly killing you and many others in your workplace, too.


Pfeffer is a professor of organizational behavior at Stanford University, and he worked with colleagues Stefanos A. Zenios of Stanford's Graduate School of Business and Joel Goh of Harvard Business School to conduct a meta-analysis of 228 studies, examining how 10 common workplace stressors affect a person’s health.


What they found is frightening, but not all that surprising: Workplace stress — such as long hours, job insecurity and lack of work-life balance — contributes to at least 120,000 deaths each year and accounts for up to $190 billion in health care costs.

When people like their work and life, they take better care of themselves

Pfeffer and his partners also found:

  • That these common workplace stressors increase the nation’s health care costs by 5 percent to 8 percent.
  • That job insecurity increased the odds of reporting poor health by 50 percent, while long work hours increased mortality by almost 20 percent.
  • In addition, highly demanding jobs raised the odds of a physician-diagnosed illness by 35 percent.

“Lots of research shows that your tendency to overeat, over drink, and take drugs are affected by your workplace,” Pfeffer told Insights by Stanford Business. “When people like their lives, and that includes work life, they will do a better job of taking care of themselves. When they don’t like their lives, they don’t.”

The researchers suggest regulations and policy changes that go beyond current overtime restrictions and wage laws, and focus on prevention.

“Forty or 50 years ago, I could put toxins into the air or water, and someone else had to pay to clean it up,” Pfeffer says. “We decided that wasn’t very good because it costs more to remediate than prevent. It’s true in the case of human health as well,’’ he says. “It costs more to remediate the effects of toxic workplaces than it does to prevent their ill effects in the first place.”

Are their viable solutions to this problem? One suggestion is that tax incentives that could encourage employers to offer more work-family balance or reduce layoffs. Non-regulatory actions like guidelines or best practices might also prove fruitful.

This video by Prof. Pfeffer gives a brief glimpse into the work he did (along with his colleagues) on workplace stress, as well as some insights into how to prevent the issue from becoming a bigger problem -- and, how making changes could be good for both employees, their managers, and their organizations.