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We have known for a long time that stress is harmful to the body. Constant lack of sleep, headaches and stomachaches are some of the most common symptoms in offices where a majority of the staff have to work extended hours, adding to their anxiety.
Everybody knows it it bad, but how bad?
A group of researchers from Harvard Business School and Stanford University looked at 10 workplace stressors that impact a person’s physical and mental health, from things like long working hours and shift work to low social support and lack of employer-provided healthcare.
They then measured how these stressors impacted four health outcomes: self-rated poor physical health, self-rated poor mental health, physician-diagnosed health problems, and death.
Their study found that high job demands increase the odds of having an illness diagnosed by a doctor by 35%.
Long work hours increased the chances of early death by almost 20%, while fears over job security spiked the odds of having poor health by about 50%.
“When you think about how much time individuals typically spend at work, it’s not that surprising,” the study’s co-author Joel Goh, assistant professor of business administration at Harvard Business School, said.
While many employers have wellness programmes that may encourage workers to join a gym, lose weight, or quit smoking, Goh told Boston.com that these often fall short because they only address half of the problem.
“Wellness programmes are great at doing what they’re designed to do, but they’re targeting employee behaviour, not the cause of stress,” he said.
A better way to deal with workplace stress is to study how managers and workplace conditions create a stressful work environment, Goh suggested.
He hoped bosses will realise that their policies can have an impact on employees’ health and encourages them to strike a balance between productivity and wellness.
“Assuming an employer cares about their employees for benevolent or bottom line reasons, we think this is something many employers haven’t thought about. We’re trying to say employers have a new control they weren’t aware about,” he said.
Goh added that he looks forward to more discussions on how employers can implement policies that reduce employee stress.
“We’re not prescribing methodology to mitigate stress, but we’re trying to open up conversations to say ‘these things matter,'” he said.