Stanford’s Jeffrey Pfeffer claims that job stress and bad management raise health costs and kills 120,000 annually. There’s a good reason to hate Mondays.
In the next few hours, millions of workers across the country will roll out of bed and begin their work week. A significant number of them are likely to hate Mondays, but are Mondays really to blame for the woes of the working class? New research coming out of Stanford suggests that workplace stress and bad management practices aren’t just jokes that date back to the days of mimeographed proto-memes like You Want It When? and You Don’t Have to be Crazy to Work Here – We Train You. They’re real, and they’re affecting our health.
According to Stanford professor Jeffrey Pfeffer, workplace burdens like long hours, micromanagement, lack of control over our tasks and surroundings, and job insecurity are, quite literally, killing us. In a 2015 paper that he expanded into a book called Dying for a Paycheck, Pfeffer asserts that 5-8% of health care costs in the United States, as well as 120,000 premature deaths each year, can be blamed on workforce management. Adding wellness programs or lunchtime yoga classes, he says, don’t compensate for the damage caused by a broken system.
Previous attempts at fixing broken workplaces have concentrated on physical hazards, says Pfeffer. Those are the sorts of problems that the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) deals with. Accidents, chemical exposure, injuries related to unsafe equipment, and job-related illnesses have (so far) been tracked, treated, and reduced, resulting in a safer, more productive workforce. However, the toxic employment practices that still make us hate Mondays may be more difficult to tackle, especially when there’s no motivation on the part of the business community to do so. Difficult, but not impossible.
With President Trump killing Obama-era rules that required large federal contractors to report and correct safety and labor violations, the rollback of the Fair Pay and Safe Workplaces rule bodes poorly for workers concerned about wage theft and physical safety in other industries trending downward as well. American workers already take less vacation time than workers in other countries, and the psychological toll isn’t helping us get any healthier.
Shift workers (who may not hate Mondays, if their unpredictable schedules mean working various shifts on other days and over the weekend instead) have additional issues that affect morale. That could change. A recent study at over two dozen Gap store locations found that giving their workers more consistent schedules resulted in a seven percent increase in sales, along with whatever personal benefits accrued to Gap employees who could now arrange predictable child care hours or know if they’ll be able to make the rent payment.
There are additional changes that businesses could make to increase worker health outcomes if they were so inclined, such as three-day weekends for those who want them. Internal changes like clear expectations, room for experimentation, and avoiding passive-aggressive communication and management styles would improve workplace satisfaction as well. Would you still hate Mondays if you didn’t dread going back to work?
Unfortunately, while improving morale may well lead to better health for workers and an improved bottom line for businesses, these changes are unlikely to be put in widespread practice as long as labor is over a barrel. Efforts to expand the success of the West Virginia teachers’ strike aside, we’re still facing a future where a lot of jobs will be automated out from under us. When the choice is between a job that’s trying to kill you and no job at all, the choice is clear for desperate workers.
It doesn’t have to be this way, but changing the trend would require a serious gut-check by our lawmakers, businesses, and workers. What are the odds we’ll prioritize the pursuit of happiness in the land of the free?
Related: Amazon Workers Squeezed to the Limit
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