Sunday, June 22, 2008

Work, stress, long hours, and your health-- what's your job costing you?

Do you have a job with high stress and/or long hours? Aside from all the other negative effects it may have on your quality of life (such as having less time with family/friends, less time to spend on hobbies, being less happy and more irritable) and on your pocketbook (like paying extra for conveniences when you're low on time, feeling like you need/deserve to splurge and treat yourself all the time, expressing your love to family through buying gifts in place of spending quality time together), have you thought about the impact your job has on your health? When you take the financial and non-financial costs of poorer health into consideration, are the stress and/or long hours really worthwhile?

Stress levels have been linked to a wide variety of negative health outcomes. Research suggests that, among other effects, stress increases the risk of cardiovascular disease, speeds the progression of HIV/AIDS, and weakens the immune system and decreases the effectiveness of vaccines. In purely financial terms, one study of 46,000 employees found that health care expenses were 46% higher for people who are highly stressed than those who were not.

There's also a significant amount of research that's been done looking at the effects of work stress specifically:

Then there's the long hours:
  • A study of over 10,000 Americans found that working 12 hours a day was associated with a 37% higher rate of work-related illness or injury (per working hour) and working 60 hours a week was associated with a 23% higher rate.
  • A study of 24,000 Californians found a link between hypertension (high blood pressure) and work hours; those who worked 40 hours per week were 14% more likely to be hypertensive than those working part-time, while those who worked more than 50 hours per week were 29% more likely to have high blood pressure.
  • A study of Japanese men found that the longer the work hours in the recent past, the higher likelihood of heart attack; those who worked more than 60 hours had twice the risk of those working 40 hours or less.
  • A study of 10,000 Norwegians found that men and women who worked more than 40 hours a week reported more symptoms of depression and anxiety.
Unsurprisingly, these health problems lead to higher health care use. A study by the Public Health Agency of Canada found that over a six-month period:
  • Individuals experiencing high levels of role overload (having too much to do in a given amount of time) were
    • 1.5 times more likely to have spent at least one night in the hospital
    • 2.6 times more likely to have sought care from a mental health professional
    • 1.8 times more likely to have seen a physician three or more times
  • Those with high work to family interference (work responsibilities interfering with family responsibilities) were
    • 1.4 times more likely to have spent at least one night in the hospital
    • 1.7 times more likely to have sought mental health care
    • 1.6 times more likely to have seen a physician three or more times

So if your job is stressful and/or has long hours, what can you do to protect your health?

  • Learn stress management techniques. These will serve you well to protect you from all kinds of stress.
  • Take individual action at your workplace to decrease your work stress level and/or work hours. If you're choosing to work longer hours and/or taking on a large, stressful workload because you believe it'll help you earn more and advance in your career, consider looking at the big picture and opting out. Are the benefits worth the costs?
  • Take collective action at your workplace to decrease your work stress level and/or work hours. You're probably not the only one feeling the crunch. Rather than an escalating battle of "who can work the longest and hardest," can you work in cooperation rather than competition on the work hours/workload front? Start talking to co-workers about the toll that the stress and hours are taking on your life and get a conversation going about what can be done in your workplace; form a union, get active in your union, organize your fellow union members to make workload and hours a priority if it isn't already; form a health and safety committee that has stress and work hours on the agenda, or get it on the agenda of your existing committee; with your co-workers, make a case to your boss and/or senior management that it's in their interest for you to have reasonable hours and workload since it'll make you healthier and more productive.
  • Find a new job-- or a new career. Ultimately, if you can't change the nature of your job, and the stress and hours are hurting your health, it may be time to look for a different job or even a different career. Think carefully about the true costs of your options-- is extra financial compensation worth the short and long-term health costs?
Do you think that work stress and/or long work hours have had an impact on your health or on the health of other people you know? How have you/they responded? Share your stories!

(See also: Picking money over time-- are we working too much?)


Mrs. Micah said...

Perhaps unsuprisingly, blogging can be a particularly taxing "job" (even if you don't do it full time). Since a lot of it is self-driven, it's important to ask yourself why you're doing this, whether it's what you want, and how to do it better.

Or maybe I'm just bitter because I'm trying to do the Carnival of Personal Finance in downtime at a family party. ;) That said, see you Monday!

Grampa Ken said...

We should adjust our values which have been turning inside out after years of commercialism but it's difficult when all around are affected.

Constantly desiring more doesn't coexist with peace and happiness, or health. It's normal to want better material things for our families, but we have to consider the true cost. How much does the new purchase, promotion, vacation, cost in terms of real life? How many extra hours of stress and anxiety, now and later, are required? How much family time and natural pleasures are missed?

Pinyo said...

Excellent and comprehensive post. I gave up a high-stress job for my current one and I would never go back if I have a choice.

M. Simon said...

It is not a secret that stress in the work places leads to depression, stress, and anxiety. However, the multinational companies have given rise to certain concepts like overtime (definitely on money), that have catapulted the cases of work related stress all the more. This is one reason that has actually led the companies to start up depression counseling and the sale of antidepressants within the office premises. The sale of antidepressants like xanax has also experienced hike owing to the hike in the overall hike in depression cases.