If you are in a high-stress job with little or no control over the work flow, chances are you are heading towards innumerable health conditions — even an early death — than those who have flexibility and discretion in their jobs.
A team of researchers from Indiana University’s Kelley School of Business found that individuals in low-control jobs, high job demands are associated with a 15.4 per cent increase in the likelihood of death.
Using a longitudinal sample of 2,363 people in their 60s over a seven-year period, they revealed that for those in high-control jobs, high job demands are associated with a 34 per cent decrease in the likelihood of death compared to low job demands.
“We explored job demands, or the amount of work, time pressure and concentration demands of a job, and job control, or the amount of discretion one has over making decisions at work, as joint predictors of death,” explained Erik Gonzalez-Mule, assistant professor of organisational behaviour and human resources.
The team also found that people with a higher degree of control over their work tend to find stress to be useful.
“Stressful jobs cause you to find ways to problem-solve and work through ways to get the work done. Having higher control gives you the resources you need to do that,” Gonzalez-Mule noted.
A stressful job then, instead of being something debilitating, can be something that is energising.
“You’re able to set your own goals, you’re able to prioritise work. You can go about deciding how you’re going to get it done. That stress then becomes something you enjoy,” the authors said.
The findings suggest that stressful jobs have clear negative consequences for employee health when paired with low freedom in decision-making, while stressful jobs can actually be beneficial to employee health if also paired with freedom in decision-making.
Gonzalez-Mule said the results do not suggest that employers necessarily need to cut back on what is expected from employees.
Rather, they demonstrate the value in restructuring some jobs to provide employees with more say about how the work gets done.
“You can avoid the negative health consequences if you allow them to set their own goals, set their own schedules, prioritise their decision-making and the like,” he said.
The firms should allow “employees to have a voice in the goal-setting process, so when you’re telling someone what they’re going to do … it’s more of a two-way conversation.”
The researchers also found that the same set of causal relationships applied to their body mass index (BMI).
People in high-demand jobs with low control were heavier than those in high-demand jobs with high control.
“When you don’t have the necessary resources to deal with a demanding job, you do this other stuff,” Gonzalez-Mule said. “You might eat more, you might smoke, you might engage in some of these things to cope with it.”
The paper, forthcoming in the journal Personnel Psychology, revealed that 26 per cent of deaths occurred in people in frontline service jobs, and 32 per cent of deaths occurred in people with manufacturing jobs who also reported high job demands and low control.
“What we found is that those people that are in entry-level service jobs and construction jobs have pretty high death rates, more so than people in professional jobs and office positions,” the authors noted.
The new study highlights the benefits of job crafting, a relatively new process that enables employees to mould and redesign their job to make it more meaningful.
Data in the study was obtained from the Wisconsin Longitudinal Study, which followed more than 10,000 people who graduated from Wisconsin high schools in 1957.