When Work Makes You Sick…

There is no doubt that a toxic working environment detrimental to employee health ultimately hurts collective performance. According to Jeffrey Pfeffer, professor of Organizational Behaviour at Stanford, what’s less obvious is the deadly nature of this problem.

It’s the big bang. In his book, Dying for a Paycheck , Jeffrey Pfeffer, professor emeritus and researcher at Stanford delivers the results of his latest research: a toxic work environment is the fifth leading cause of death in the United States, far ahead of diseases such as Alzheimer’s, for example. Things like excessive overtime, lack of home-life balance, lack of health insurance, and, in terms of management, lack of autonomy are singled out as being the main culprits. According to Pfeffer, that accounts for nearly 120,000 deaths a year and between five and eight percent of annual health care costs in the United States.

It’s even worse in China, where more than a million people die each year due to overwork. Pfeffer makes a clear recommendation to deal with the issue of workplace wellness pre-emptively instead of trying to problem-solve after the fact. Rather than waiting until unhealthiness has set in and then setting up wellness programs, companies should take preventative measures, integrating concerns about wellness into core organizational structures. To leaders, Pfeffer says “You have more impact on the health of your staff than their own family doctor. You contribute much more to their health and well-being than you think”.

He offers 3 questions to ask yourself about the work of your teams and how it is organized:
1) Is it sustainable?
2) Am I overloading them?
3) What can I do to course-correct?

Prevention is clearly better than a cure.

To Learn More:
Dying for a Paycheck: How Modern Management Harms Employee Health and Company Performance—and What We Can Do About It, by Jeffrey Pfeffer, (Harper Collins, March 2018)