Workplace stress a growing health hazard: Study

Workers in high-stress jobs visiting doctors more often
||Last Updated: 08/26/2011

Job-related stress is catching up with the Canadians, according to a study by economists at Concordia University in Montreal. They found increased job stress causes workers to increasingly seek help from health professionals for physical, mental and emotional ailments linked to job stress.

The number of visits to health-care professionals is up to 26 per cent more for workers in high-stress jobs compared to those in low-stress jobs, said Psychosocial Working Conditions and the Utilization of Health Care Services.

“These results show that people in medium- to high-stress jobs visit family doctors and specialists more often than workers with low job stress,” said co-author Sunday Azagba, a PhD candidate in the Concordia department of economics.

To reach their conclusions, the economists crunched nationally representative data from the Canadian National Population Health Survey (NPHS) from 2000 to 2008. The occupations analyzed as part of the NPHS included seven categories: mechanical, trade, professional, managerial, health, service and farm.

All figures were restricted to adults aged 18 to 65 years — the bulk of the labour force — and included statistics on the number of health-care visits, chronic illnesses, marital status, income level, smoking and drinking habits.

“We believe an increasing number of workers are using medical services to cope with job stress,” said co-author Mesbah Sharaf, a PhD candidate in the Concordia department of economics.

“There is medical evidence that stress can adversely affect an individual’s immune system, thereby increasing the risk of disease,” said Sharaf. “Numerous studies have linked stress to back pain, colorectal cancer, infectious disease, heart problems, headaches and diabetes. Job stress may also heighten risky behaviours such as smoking, drug and alcohol abuse, discourage healthy behaviours such as physical activity, proper diet and increase consumption of fatty and sweet foods.”

Cost of stressful workplaces

Previous research has found aging populations and prescription drugs increase the price of health care. Yet few studies have correlated workplace stress rates on health-care costs, said the researchers.

“Health-care spending in Canada, as a percentage of gross domestic product, increased from seven per cent in 1980 to 10.1 per cent in 2007,” said Azagba.

Easing workplace stress could help governments reduce soaring health budgets and bolster employee morale, they said.

“Improving stressful working conditions and educating workers on stress-coping mechanisms could help to reduce health-care costs,” said Azagba. “Managing workplace stress can also foster other economic advantages, such as increased productivity among workers, reduce absenteeism and diminish employee turnover.”

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