Work life balance is a matter of life and death

By Thomas Shambler
Mon 28 Nov 2016 09:22 AM

Is your job killing you? People often claim that they're working themselves to death, but a recent study suggests that there might be truth to that cliché. A recent study by Indiana University found that those who work in stressful environments with little control over their situation are more likely to die sooner than those who have control over their work/life balance.

The study – which has just been published in the Journal of Personnel Psychology – followed 10,000 people who graduated from Wisconsin high schools in 1957. In the longitudinal study, participants were interviewed on their education, occupation and emotional experiences at various parts of their lives.

Of the 10,000 in the study, researchers found 2,363 participants who had not yet retired in 2004 (at the age of 65) and interviewed them about their job demands. A follow-up was conducted in 2011 and proved that those individuals who spent their lives working in stressful environments without control were 15.4 percent more likely to have died. At the same time, those who had stressful jobs but a high level of control, had a 34 percent decrease in the likelihood of death, compared to those in low-demand careers.

"We explored job demands, or the amount of work, time pressure and concentration a job demands, as well as the amount of discretion one,  has over making decisions at work, as predictors of death," wrote the study's lead author, Erik Gonzalez-Mulé. "These findings suggest that stressful jobs have a clear negative consequences for employee health."

The study suggests there are a number of negative health factors that result from being micromanaged, many of which have an impact on longevity. High-stress positions are more likely to leave staff overweight or produce harmful coping mechanisms like smoking or alcoholism. And employee health is big business. In the US alone, Duke University researchers found that obesity cost businesses over US$73.1 billion per year. While Harvard research suggests that insomnia cost almost US$63.2 billion in insurance and lost productivity.

That's not to say that all stress is bad. Some studies suggest that demanding jobs help keep the brain alert, and better alertness can lead to better performance. "Stressful jobs cause you to find ways to problem-solve, and work through ways to get the work done. Having higher control gives you the resources you need to do that," says Gonzalez-Mulé. The real health concern is when stress meets a lack of control, or when a demanding job meets a low level of autonomy and constant micromanaging.

Think you need more flexibility in the workplace? It's probably worth speaking up about it. After all, it may just save your life.

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