Job Control = Healthier Employees

It’s a no brainer that losing your job and the lack of access to good medical care can definitely impact your health and even life expectancy.

But, what about working at a job where you have no control over what you do and when?

In a groundbreaking study on how workplaces impact health, researchers found one of the top influencers diminishing life expectancy was low job control, reported The Washington Post today in an article about the new study by Harvard and Stanford researchers.

Skull7-800px“Your work is literally ‘killing’ you,” declared the article’s headline. Here’s an excerpt:

Across all groups, unemployment and layoffs, and a lack of health insurance were the factors that exerted the biggest influence. Low job control was the next biggest influence for both men and women, followed by job insecurity in men and shift work in women. 

Turns out workflex is more than a convenience.

It’s no surprise that conditions that would suppress access to salaries and health care would impact health and longevity. However, the fact that low job control is the next major issue for both men and women is an important reminder that flexibility is more than a perk.

Flexibility, which includes a variety of options that increase job control, can help make rigid systems more manageable and, from this research, possibly more healthy.

One of the advances in the modern workplace is the realization that you can get more out of people for a longer period of time if you design work with both money and human nature in mind rather than considering employees organic machines that will do what they are told with no reaction. This realization hasn’t spread throughout the economy, and there are numerous workplaces where there is still room for lots of growth in job control.

Note that job control isn’t about managers giving up their own control to their subordinates; it’s about not hoarding control of things that employees could be trusted to decide on their own with the appropriate information and/or training.

Another interesting aspect of these findings is the gender difference in the next most influential variables. Men are more hurt by job insecurity and women by shift work.

It sounds to me like men become stressed when they fear failing in the breadwinner role (losing their jobs) and women when they are facing impediments to caregiving (the often unpredictable schedules of shift work can interfere with frequently inflexible caregiving responsibilities). While both genders probably experience these stresses depending on what roles they fill in their families, the impact of job insecurity and shift work may be magnified by the identity crises raised by work conditions that conflict with gendered responsibilities.

It would be interesting to see whether the effects are equally large for women who are primary breadwinners with high job insecurity and men who are primary caretakers on shift work. As other studies have shown, like Fathers and the Flexibility Stigma, a lot of gender difference isn’t really about being a man or a woman. It’s about the differences in the lives that men and women experience, however long they may be.

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