Is Your Job Making You Sick?

Not all workplaces are created equal when it comes to health. Workers at some jobs—called “effective” workplaces—are much more likely to say they are in excellent health—38% in all.

Getty Images
Amid the highest unemployment rate in recent decades and massive job losses around the country, most workers feel happy to at least be employed. What they arent feeling, however, is healthy.

One in three workers has at least one symptom of clinical depression; 41% say they feel stressed sometimes, often, or very often; and one in five has trouble falling asleep often or very often. In all, 14% are being treated for high cholesterol and one in five is taking blood-pressure-lowering medication.

In fact, the percentage of workers who say theyre in excellent health has dropped from 34% in 2002 to 28% in 2008, according to a report recently released by the Families and Work Institute (FWI), a nonprofit research company.

“When we try to explain what happened [since 2002], it wasnt what we thought was the simple answer—that the population is getting older and younger people simply have better health,” says Ellen Galinsky, the FWIs president and cofounder. “It was a change among men and higher income employees [due to] the uncertainty around the economy and the greater pressure that people are feeling to manage their work and family life.”

Some workplaces are healthier than others
Not all workplaces are created equal when it comes to health. In fact, 38% of workers at certain jobs—called “effective” workplaces in the report—were much more likely to say they were in excellent health. Conversely, only 19% of employees in workplaces with a low effectiveness rating reported being in excellent health.

So what makes an effective workplace? Six factors make a difference, Galinsky says. Workers may feel healthier if they have “learning opportunities and challenge, a good fit between work and personal life, autonomy, having a supervisor who supports job success, economic security—no surprise in this economy—and a work climate of respect and trust,” she says.

Eric Endlich, PhD, a Massachusetts-based clinical psychologist who specializes in workplace health, says these factors can make people feel in control of their destiny, challenged but not stressed, and appreciated.

“If someone is stressed at work from [feeling like they lack in] any of these factors, they could have a higher pulse, hypertension, [and] higher blood pressure, and if these things happen chronically they can worsen as well as worsen an existing condition,” he says.

Feeling a lack of control in the workplace or not enough support from a supervisor may lead to feelings of helplessness, says Endlich, which in turn can spiral into depression, “which is associated with lots of poor health outcomes [and] increases mortality rates from all causes,” he says.

According to the report, one of the biggest predictors of feeling healthy is a balance between work and personal life. “If someone has difficulty with this balance,” says Endlich, “then theyre going to be cutting back wherever they can,” including on important components of a healthy lifestyle, like getting enough sleep, shopping for and preparing healthy food, and exercising.

12 Next
Sarah Klein
Last Updated: October 13, 2009

De–stress your life, sleep better, and conquer depression with the latest news and insights on mood management, plus special offers.

More Ways to Connect with Health