Anyone needing further reason to take that extra day off this summer is in luck. A new study from the National Bureau for Economic Research in the United States gives conclusive proof that work-related stress produces negative health consequences.
In a paper titled “No pain, no gain: the effects of exports on effort, injury and illness” researchers matched health records for Danish workers in the manufacturing sector to production at various companies and found that the better the company’s performance measured by increases in exports the more employees suffered from health problems ranging from depression, cardiovascular disease and on-the-job injuries.
“We find that rising exports lead to higher rates of injury, for both men and women, and sickness, mainly for women,” say the study’s authors.
And while numerous studies over the years have linked job stress with workers’ ill-health, the correlative connection between the two has always left room for doubt about how tight the link might be. Merely to observe that lawyers in high-pressure firms, for example, are more apt to develop high blood pressure does not prove that job stress was the cause of the health concern, since it’s possible that high stress jobs attract people already pre-disposed to have issues with high blood pressure.
The present study avoids this type of uncertainty by tracking rises in negative health outcomes directly with increases in a company’s productivity. “The medical literature typically finds that people who work longer hours have worse health outcomes -but we try to distinguish between causality and correlation,” said Chong Xiang, an economics professor at Purdue and coauthor on the paper.
The study’s authors found that 10 per cent increases in a company’s exports push up female employees’ chance of severe job injury by 6.35 per cent, severe depression by 2.51 per cent, the use of medication for heart attack and stroke by 7.70 per cent and hospitalizations due to heart attack or stroke by a whopping 15.01 per cent.
When comparing firms that performed well with those that performed in the top 25 per cent of export companies, researchers arrived at some interesting results. While the majority of high-performing companies saw employees taking fewer sick days than normal -presumably because work loads pushed them to stay at work -employees in the very top performing companies actually took more sick days than normal, likely because they became overworked to the point where they were forced to take time off.
“Our findings capture the pain from globalization, and we quantify its magnitude relative to the gains from globalization documented by previous research,” say the study’s authors.
A 2010 study found that more than one in four Canadians described their daily lives as highly stressful, with six in ten of highly stressed individuals stating that work was the primary source of their stress. White collar Canadians more often reported their jobs to be highly stressful than their blue-collar peers and men aged 35 to 49 proved to be the cohort with the highest self-reported work-related stress. The economic costs of work-related illness are high -mental health problems alone are said to cost employers an estimated $20 billion annually.