Dying for a Paycheck
Workplace stress, from long work hours, work-family conflict, economic insecurity, an absence of job control, and inadequate social support at work, is as harmful to health and mortality as second-hand smoke, a known—and regulated—carcinogen, and is probably the fifth leading cause of death in the united states. Ironically, many of the management practices that create employee ill-health do not benefit employers. For instance, layoffs, while creating economic uncertainty both for those laid off and for the “survivors,” do not enhance stock price, profits, or productivity, and often do not even reduce costs. Long working hours harm performance. And an absence of job control is not only unhealthful but also leads to turnover and employee disengagement.
The health effects of employers can be reliably and validly assessed with a single question! A reasonably straightforward method can ascertain how much of the excess mortality and health care costs attributable to workplace practices could be feasibly remediated in a given country. And we know that, at least in the united states, a sizable proportion of the growing inequality in health comes from people with different educational levels being sorted into jobs with varying degrees of exposure to harmful workplace practices.
In short, just as decades ago public policy in virtually all of the developed world focused on remedying pollution of the physical environment, it is both practically feasible and morally imperative that companies and countries focus policy on remediating the “social pollution” that comes from harmful—and unproductive—workplace practices.
Jeffrey Pfeffer (www.jeffreypfeffer.com) is the Thomas D. Dee II Professor of Organizational Behavior at the Stanford Graduate School of Business where he has taught since 1979. Pfeffer is the author or co-author of 15 books on topics including power in organizations, managing people, evidence-based management and The Knowing-Doing Gap. Leadership B.S.: Fixing Workplaces and Careers One Truth at a Time, was published in 2015. In the spring of 2018, Pfeffer’s latest book, Dying for a Paycheck, will be published by HarperCollins. Author of more than 150 articles and book chapters, Pfeffer has won numerous awards for his scholarly research, including an Honorary Doctorate from Tilburg University in The Netherlands.
Pfeffer has taught seminars in 39 countries and has been a visiting professor at Harvard Business School, London Business School, Singapore Management University, and for twelve years at IESE in Barcelona. Prior to joining Stanford, he was on the faculty at the business schools at the University of California, Berkeley, and the University of Illinois. Pfeffer has served on the board of directors of several human capital software companies as well as other public and private company and non-profit boards.