Stress at Work as Bad as Secondhand Smoke

In Business, Industry News by PCH Staff

If you’re a non-smoker, inhaling someone else’s secondhand smoke is a disgusting and, unfortunately, sometimes unavoidable part of daily life. Sure, the ban on smoking in enclosed public places and workplaces in the UK has undoubtedly curtailed the problem of passive smoking, but nevertheless it is still an issue.

In fact, the ban has now been extended to cover people who smoke in vehicles carrying children, even if the windows are open or sunroof down; a fact that further emphasises the focus being placed on tackling secondhand smoke inhalation.

Unfortunately, another equally serious health risk – workplace stress – gets far less attention, but that could change going forward thanks to a new study by researchers at Harvard Business School and Stanford University.

The academics analysed evidence from 228 separate studies and found that work-related stress is as bad for health as secondhand smoke. High job demands increased the chances of an individual being diagnosed with an illness by a doctor by 35%. Whereas long working hours increased the chances of early death by almost 20%.

However, the biggest stressor by far was the worry that you might soon lose your job. That was linked to a 50% greater risk of poor physical and mental health.

Perhaps the most eye-opening finding the team made was how closely the health outcomes of work stressors compare to secondhand smoke exposure.

“The health effects of secondhand smoke exposure are widely viewed as sufficiently large to warrant regulatory intervention. For example, secondhand smoke is recognised as a carcinogen, and smoking in enclosed public places, including workspaces, is banned in many states in the US and in many other countries.

Study Hoping to Raise Awareness of Workplace Stress

“The results of our meta-analysis show that workplace stressors generally increased the odds of poor health outcomes to approximately the same extent as exposure to secondhand smoke,” said the report.

Study co-author Joel Goh of Harvard Business School said that he hoped the researchers’ findings would raise awareness about the issue of workplace stress and help companies think about the ways in which they manage their employees.

He added that while longer working hours and demanding faster work may seem like obvious ways to increase productivity, that might not always be the case.

Goh believes that in addition to promoting better health behaviours, such as increasing exercise and cutting down on smoking, employers should encourage working practices that reduce job-induced stress.

For example, limiting working hours, reducing shift work and unpredictable shifts, and encouraging job flexibility to improve work-life balances were all cited by the research team as possible steps employers could take to address stress among their workforce.

They also warned that unless stress in the workplace is more rigorously measured and steps are taken to combat it, other healthcare initiatives designed to improve peoples’ lives and their health could be limited in their effectiveness.

The researchers’ findings were published in the journal Behavioral Science & Policy Association.

Employee health and well-being and managing absenteeism are areas that are sometimes overlooked by employers. We can help give employers the tools to do this efficiently and effectively. There are many policies in the healthcare market which offer cost effective ways of ensuring your employees are getting the assistance they require and make sure the employer is carrying out their duty of care. Engaging with your employees in this way creates a happier workforce which should result in a more productive workforce.


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