Academic research has found that having greater control over your job can help you manage work-related stress. But it’s never suggested that it was a matter of life and death — until now.
New research from the Indiana University Kelley School of Business in the US finds that those in high-stress jobs with little control over their workflow die younger or are less healthy than those who have more flexibility and discretion in their jobs and are able to set their own goals as part of their employment.
Using a longitudinal sample of 2,363 Wisconsin residents in their 60s over a seven-year period, they found that for individuals in low-control jobs, high job demands are associated with a 15.4 percent increase in the likelihood of death, compared to low job demands. For those in high-control jobs, high job demands are associated with a 34 percent 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,” said Erik Gonzalez-Mulé, assistant professor of organisational behavior and human resources at the Kelley School and the paper’s lead author.
“These 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.”
The paper, “Worked to Death: The Relationships of Job Demands and Job Control With Mortality,” has been accepted for publication in the journal Personnel Psychology.
Studies exploring the work factors associated with death are largely absent from the organisational psychology and management literatures. The authors believe theirs is the first study in the management and applied psychology fields to examine the relationship between job characteristics and mortality.
Gonzalez-Mulé said the paper’s 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, prioritize their decision-making and the like,” he said, also recommending that firms 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.”
Thus, micro-managing employees can have a public health impact. Among people in the study’s sample, the researchers also found that the same set of causal relationships applied to their body mass index. 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-Mulé said. “You might eat more, you might smoke, you might engage in some of these things to cope with it.”
Cancer research studies have found a correlation between eating poorly and developing the disease; at 55 percent, cancer was the leading cause of death of those in the paper’s sample. Other leading causes of death were circulatory system ailments, 22 percent; and respiratory system ailments, 8 percent.
The paper provides more reasons for those in stressful, dead-end jobs to refresh their resumes and look for other employment. Twenty-six percent of deaths occurred in people in frontline service jobs, and 32 percent 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,” he said. “Interestingly, we found a really low rate of death among agricultural workers.”
Gonzalez-Mulé said the new study highlights the benefits of job crafting, a relatively new process that enables employees to mold and redesign their job to make it more meaningful. Other research suggests that workers who engage in job crafting are happier and are more productive than co-workers who don’t.
“In some settings, it will be difficult to do this. For a construction worker, it’s going to really hard to allow them autonomy; there’s usually just one right way to do things. In jobs like that, it’s more about just warning the employee of the risks that are here,” he said. “But with some blue-collar jobs, you can. Some people have experimented with this in factory settings, using things like flex-time and paying people based on piece-rate … showing employees what the outcome is of their work.
“There’s a lot research that shows that people who have a social connection with the beneficiaries of their work are much more satisfied and have less stress in their jobs, with no change in the job itself.”
Their study 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-Mulé said. “A stressful job then, instead of being something debilitating, can be something that’s energizing. You’re able to set your own goals, you’re able to prioritize work. You can go about deciding how you’re going to get it done. That stress then becomes something you enjoy.”
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. They were interviewed at various time intervals over their lives, through 2011, to provide data on educational, occupational and emotional experiences. All participants in the study were employed but near the end of their careers.
Gonzalez-Mulé and Cockburn only included those who were not retired in 2004 and who responded to questions about job demands and job control, and then followed up on their responses to questions in 2011. They employed rigorous controls for factors such as demographic characteristics, socioeconomic status and affect.
Gonzalez-Mulé wonders if younger workers are better able to cope with demanding jobs, regardless of the level of control, than workers at the end of their careers. Future research could follow people at an earlier point in their careers to see if the Job Demands-Control Model accurately predicts strain over time.
Story Source: Science Daily
- Erik Gonzalez-Mulé, Bethany Cockburn. Worked To Death: The Relationships of Job Demands and Job Control With Mortality. Personnel Psychology, 2016; DOI: 10.1111/peps.12206
FactCheck: do better pay rates for truck drivers improve safety?
Michael Quinlan, UNSW Australia
The evidence is that if you ensure that people travel safely in terms of safe rates you will get proper outcomes … you will get improved safety. – Shadow Minister for Infrastructure and Transport, Anthony Albanese, speaking on RN Breakfast, April 11, 2016.
Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull promised to abolish the Road Transport Remuneration Tribunal if re-elected.
That announcement came after the tribunal issued a Road Safety Remuneration Order setting minimum pay rates for self-employed truck drivers consistent with the 2010 Road Transport and Distribution Award.
Turnbull told reporters that the tribunal is not effective in improving safety and that it undermines owner operator drivers and family businesses.
This FactCheck will not examine whether the Road Transport Remuneration Tribunal is the best way to improve road safety. It confines itself only to testing against the evidence a recent assertion by Shadow Minister for Infrastructure and Transport, Anthony Albanese, that better driver pay results in improved safety.
Is that assertion correct?
Checking the source
When asked for evidence to support his statement, Albanese’s spokesman referred The Conversation to Shadow Minister for Employment and Workplace Relations, Brendan O’Connor.
O’Connor’s spokeswoman referred The Conversation to the 2016 Review of the Road Safety Remuneration System conducted by PricewaterhouseCoopers for the Commonwealth government, which recommended the tribunal be abolished.
On the question of pay and road transport safety, the Pricewaterhouse Coopers report said:
- directly comparing remuneration and safety does demonstrate statistically significant correlations. However, results vary substantially.
- the four most recent papers range in conclusion from a) a very large effect, b) a U-shaped curve, in which a large positive effect of initial remuneration rises eventually turns negative, through to c) and d) with a very small effect
- the literature is very limited in size and focuses on employee drivers
Drivers are likely to benefit the most [from tribunal orders] due to increased remuneration and fewer road accidents, followed by government and members of society who face costs following road crashes, and will therefore benefit from an improvement in safety.
You can read the full response from O’Connor’s spokeswoman here.
If you just read that Pricewaterhouse Coopers report excerpt above, you might think that the evidence is fairly mixed. In fact, the overwhelming weight of evidence supports Albanese’s claim: there is persuasive evidence of a connection between truck driver pay and safety.
What do other Australian studies say?
Australian studies conducted since the 1990s found a significant link between scheduling pressures, unpaid waiting time, insecure rewards and access to work, and hazardous practices such as speeding, excessive hours and drug use by drivers. The researchers found that those on trip-based payment schemes (typical for owner drivers but also increasing amongst employee drivers) drove on average 15km per hour faster than those on fixed rate payments (like hourly wages).
A 2001 study found drivers who were paid in terms of the amount of work they did reported fatigue more often than drivers who were paid in terms of the time they were working (for example, hourly rates).
An Australian study published in the American Journal of Epidemiology in 2007 analysed drug use by drivers in both surveys and concluded that:
the strongest predictors of drug use were payment based on the amount of work completed and fatigue reported as a major problem … The strong association of payment by results and low pay with drug use among Australian long-distance truck drivers is consistent with other research suggesting that economic factors are an important influence on health and safety in the workplace.
An Australian survey of 300 long haul drivers found owner-drivers experienced significantly worse health scores than employee drivers, especially when employed on the most competitive route (Melbourne – Sydney).
Owner-drivers and drivers working for small firms reported more injuries than those employed by larger firms and owner-drivers had a slightly higher crash rate.
Another survey of Australian heavy vehicle drivers published in 2014 found:
piece-rate compensation methods were associated with higher levels of fatigue-related driving than non-piece-rate methods. Follow-up analysis also revealed higher caffeine and amphetamines use among piece-rate drivers for the purpose of staying awake while driving.
In that study, the authors found no association between compensation methods and sleepiness.
What do US studies say?
A US paper published in 2002 found that driver pay has a strong effect on safety outcomes.
Similarly, a large survey of long haul truck drivers undertaken by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health in the US detailed scheduling pressure on drivers, widespread unsafe driving practices, regulatory non-compliance and failure to report injuries.
Safety outcomes should not be confined to crashes, although understandably these are the focus of policy and public debate. Safety outcomes include unsafe work practices (like excessive hours, speeding, poor maintenance of trucks and use of drugs).
Most of the research has relied on cross-sectional surveys of drivers, meaning they analyse a snapshot of data from a population at a given moment in time (as opposed to longitudinal studies, which follow the same people over time). Cross-sectional surveys can have limitations.
Comparing safety outcomes between employee and owner drivers is also difficult because owner drivers are much more sensitive to market ups and downs. There has been a convergence of conditions between employee and owener-drivers, especially in the small firms (for example, many employee drivers are paid on trip-based rates now and Award non-compliance has also grown due to competitive pressures). Most truck safety studies have not examined this.
Nonetheless, the research findings are clear and consistent.
Albanese was correct. There is persuasive evidence of a connection between truck driver pay and safety. – Michael Quinlan
This is an excellent brief summary of the literature. Albanese is quite right that “safe rates” gets the public a safer outcome. The literature the expert cites is quite competent (Australians are way ahead of Americans on this) and is some of the same literature I would cite, and have cited, in my own work. I see that this expert has cited my work, which I modestly think is valid and has been peer reviewed.
Studies my team performed for the US Department of Transportation Federal Motor Carrier Administration in 2002 demonstrated that higher compensation led to significantly safer truck driver performance. For every 10% more in truck driver mileage pay rate, a very large American truckload carrier found that the probability that a driver would have a crash declined 40%.
Research shows this effect is true across carriers. A cross-sectional study of 102 non-union truckload motor carriers found that for every 10% increase in truckie compensation, carriers’ crash rates were 9.2% lower.
In sum, there is ample evidence that supports the relationship between compensation and safety in trucking and across other modes. In my own work, I see it in intercity buses. In others’ work, I see it in airlines and even in rail. – Michael H. Belzer
This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.