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Stress at workplace and health

While nearly half of working adults say that their current job affects their overall health, only a third of those believe this effect is a positive one.

According to a Harvard survey, people with disabilities, workers in dangerous or low-paying jobs and those in retail are most likely to say their job has a negative impact on their stress level (43 per cent), eating habits (28 per cent), sleeping patterns (27 per cent) and weight (22 per cent).

Most US companies have long viewed the scope of their responsibility to employee health in merely providing medical insurance, paid sick days and, maybe, discounts on gym memberships. But data show that a third of workers suffer from work-related stress that costs US businesses $30 billion a year in lost workdays. Experts say many of these health problems can be corrected if companies adopt a more significant role in creating a “culture of health” in the workplace where workers feel empowered to pursue a healthier lifestyle. Since stressors vary by profession, employers can start by talking to workers about the specific conditions that drive stress in a particular job, including:

1. Harmful or unsafe workplace;

2. Understaffing;

3. Variable hours;

4. Overwork or expanded responsibilities due to downsizing;

5. Inadequate or failing equipment or materials;

6. A lack of regular and clear supervisor's feedback.

Directly outside the job, but very intertwined with it, are stressful situations such as caring for a sick family member while working full-time, work-related disrupted sleep habits, trying to make ends meet at a low-wage job, or going home each night to an unsafe community. All these factors substantially add to a poor worker's health.

In addition to stress, direct and indirect exposure to on-the-job hazards and conditions such as contaminants, accidents, and poor air quality are major risk sources for chronic diseases. In 2014, there were about 5,000 occupational fatalities and more than 3 million work-related injuries at a cost of $50 billion. The above survey also delineates the extent to which mental health issues affect worker health. One in 17 workers suffers from a serious mental condition. Of those, six per cent have significant problems that pose a serious risk to fellow workers, their families, and companies, a fact that is likely underreported because workers either don't have access to mental health resources, or fear seeking help, or dread to admit having this problem and risk losing their job.

Another study published this month by SUNY Downstate Medical Centre and the University of California, Irvine, included a model illustrating how economic globalisation may create stressful employment factors, contributing to the worldwide epidemic of cardiovascular disease. They recommend policies to lessen stressful employment conditions by:

1. Implementing national surveillance of occupations, industries and workplaces to identify elevated levels of hazardous work characteristics;

2. Establishing upper limits of weekly and yearly work hours;

3. Mandating vacation time for all workers to facilitate recovery;

4. Passing regulations to mandate a “living wage” that provides sufficient financial support so that workers are not forced to work excessively long hours;

5. Passing legislation that increases the economic security of precarious workers.

How does work stress lead to cardiovascular disease?

Multiple studies, some spanning up to 12 years of surveillance, showed a “dose response” relation between the intensity of psychosocial stress at work and CVD. Multiple mechanisms were invoked including adverse behavioural ones such as smoking, alcohol use, unhealthy diet, non-restorative sleep and lack of exercise, and activation of multiple neurological and hormonal pathways that all led to the development of “metabolic syndrome”. The latter comprises a cluster of internal changes such as insulin resistance, high blood pressure, abnormal cholesterol, overweight, and an increased risk for clotting. Metabolic syndrome has been proven to be a leading cause of cardiac disease and stroke.

•Joe Yammine is a cardiologist at Bermuda Hospitals Board. The information herein is not intended as medical advice nor as a substitute for professional medical opinion. Always seek the advice of your physician. You should never delay seeking medical advice, disregard medical advice or discontinue treatment because of this article.

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Published October 11, 2016 at 9:00 am (Updated October 11, 2016 at 1:05 am)

Stress at workplace and health

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