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A Harvard Study Says These 10 Management Practices May Literally Kill Your Employees

Alarming research has discovered that more than 120,000 deaths per year may be attributable to the way U.S. companies manage their work force.

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BY Marcel Schwantes - 07 Sep 2017

PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images

Alarming research has discovered that more than 120,000 deaths per year may be attributable to the way U.S. companies (and its managers) manage their work force.

That's according to professors Joel Goh at Harvard Business School, and Jeffrey Pfeffer and Stefanos A. Zenios at the Graduate School of Business, Stanford University. Using meta-analysis, they combed over 228 studies to assess the effects of ten workplace stressors, mostly attributable to managerial practices. They are:

  • Lack of health insurance
  • Layoffs and unemployment
  • Job insecurity
  • Shift work
  • Long working hours
  • Work-family conflict
  • Low job control
  • High job demands
  • Low social support at work
  • Low organizational justice

While the research doesn't cover every possible stressor faced by employees in the workplace, these ten stressors were chosen because there is broad epidemiological evidence for their health consequences in the literature and data sources. Lets dig deeper into each one, which begs the question -- are you (or a family member) at risk?

Lack of Health Insurance

The study found two reasons for why this is linked to higher mortality rates: First, not having health insurance increases financial stress. "A significant fraction of personal bankruptcies derive from healthcare bills and not having insurance also increases the effort required to obtain healthcare for oneself and one's family," states the study. Second, treatment of health conditions is delayed by an absence of preventive screenings and treatment until the disease state becomes more severe.

Unemployment and Layoffs

Management decisions associated with their employees losing jobs have been linked to an increased mortality risk between 44% to 100% in the year following job loss, states the study's authors. There is the financial stress resulting from the loss of income and also the emotional stress resulting in the "separation from the social identity of being productively employed and social isolation from coworkers." It also found that people who become unemployed were at twice the risk of experiencing increased depression.

Job Insecurity

Even among the employed, the looming insecurity that one may feel with the prospect of losing a job contributes to stress, sickness and mortality. For example, female nurses who experienced job insecurity were about 89% more likely to develop non-fatal myocardial infarction.

Work Hours and Shift Work

Although flexible work schedules and remote work is on the rise, for the most part, managers still dictate and control the amount of work and what hours their people will work. Hence, work hours and shift work have profound health consequences, "possibly through their effects on work stress, sleep, and the conflict between work and other roles." Long work hours were associated with self-reported hypertension, and also to more unhealthy behaviors such as smoking.

Work-Family Conflict

Described as a situation "when one's efforts to fulfill work role demands interfere with one's ability to fulfill family demands and vice versa," work-family conflict is a significant source of stress that could be minimized with better work management practices. This type of conflict has been linked to poor mental and physical health, including substance abuse.

Job Control and Job Demands

Low job control and high job demands is linked to poor health such as cardiovascular disease. .

Social Support

The review shows a direct effect of social support on health, and managers have a key role to play here. They can make decisions that increase the social support of their teams -- facilitating the formation of social networks and planning company-organized social events and formal mentorship programs to increase social support at work and drastically decrease stress.

Organizational Justice

Organizational injustice, i.e., the perception of unfairness at work, "is an important job stressor that potentially affects employees' psychological health, and ultimately, even their physical health, through deleterious health behaviors" states the study.

Bringing It Home

In all instances, there are more than 120,000 excess deaths each year associated with the various workplace factors. The biggest factor is lack of health insurance (leading to lack of treatment), which contributes to 49,000 deaths. Unemployment contributes to 34,000 deaths, and job insecurity and high work demands each contribute to about 30,000 deaths.

For command and control organizations with rigid management styles, decisions and actions can have profound effects on the mental and physical well-being of employees -- leading to morbidity, mortality, and astronomical healthcare costs..

The study's authors lay out a clear path of positive change: "Analyzing how employers affect health outcomes and costs through the workplace decisions they make is incredibly important if we are to more fully understand the landscape of health and well-being. An integrated approach that looks at both management structures as well as internal health programs is the way forward to address these concerns."