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The Real Cost of High-Stress Jobs

Tired woman resting her head on her arms over desk with 4 cups of coffee and a laptop.

Many employers across American provide health insurance to their employees as both a gesture of appreciation and a way to keep employees as healthy (and productive) as possible. Health insurance is becoming more and more important as laws are passed requiring more of us to have it, but up until just recently, there was a surprising lack of data on how a high-stress job can affect your health as a whole. With so many employers offering insurance, it’s time that we take a look at the overall costs of that insurance as well as the cost of those who don’t have insurance – and those who are more or less killed by employment-related stress factors.

Work can kill you, especially if your job has stressors like unrealistic demands, volatile management, and fear of unemployment. These stress-inducing factors (and more, listed below) can manifest themselves in a variety of different illnesses and disorders from heart disease to mental illness and alcoholism. Even with these established causes and effects, little information had been gathered in the United States to measure the actual impact of these stressors until just recently. Not only can stress take a toll on you physically, but it may be responsible for a life insurance cash-in down the road.

Joel Goh, Harvard Business School assistant professor of business administration in the Technology and Operations Management unit, has been gathering a body of research and statistics, applying his unique skill in creating mathematical models to determine what the real impact is, even in the face of countless variables. Spearheaded by Goh and written by Stanford business professors Jeffrey Pfeffer and Stefanos A. Zenios, the working paper The Relationship between Workplace Stressors and Mortality and Health Costs in the United States outlines these ten stressors and their effects.

Some of those sources of stress were…

– Long work hours

– Job insecurity

– Lack of control

– Feeling of unfairness

– Work-family conflicts

– Lack of health insurance

– Loss of employment

The fact that multiple stressors often work together was taken into account when creating the mathematical models used to calculate the numerical impact of workplace stress, measured in both an approximate bodycount and the estimated monetary expenditures that workplace stress can cause.

The death toll of workplace stress was estimated to realistically be in the neighborhood of 120,000 deaths per year due to a combination of stress-related medical issues, a lack of health insurance, and high work demands. Just those without insurance were estimated to account for nearly 50,000 of the estimated deaths, meaning that they died from stress-related issues that could’ve been addressed by health insurance. Unemployment is seemingly responsible for 34,000 while job insecurity and high work demands account for the remaining 30,000 deaths. So, how much does this cost in cold, hard cash? Upwards of $125 billion every year, and possibly as much as $190 billion or more. Costs like that would account for 5 to 8 percent of national health care expenditure, even in a world that now offers free government health insurance. The highest contributing factor here was unrealistic workplace expectations, so it brings up the issue of what employers can do to combat these deaths.

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