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Is Your Job Making You Sick?

Posted January 27th, 2012 by Carroll King Schuller

American workers are not happy in their jobs. More than half of American workers report that they are unhappy and one-fourth of employees view their jobs as the number one stressor in their lives.

Problems at work are more strongly associated with health complaints than are any other life stressor, more so than even financial or family problems.

The Symptoms

Work-related stress can cause emotional problems such as depression and anxiety but also
causes physical illness. Stress has direct effects on the skin (rashes, hives, atopic dermatitis), the gastrointestinal system (GERD, peptic ulcer, irritable bowel syndrome, ulcerative colitis), and contributes to insomnia, headache, muscular tension, and backache and/or neck ache. Chronic, long-term stress may even increase your risk of having a heart attack or stroke.

Harmful Impact on Your Hormones

Stress engages the nervous system in the “fight or flight” response, a defense to threatening situations. Hormones are released to sharpen your senses, quicken your pulse, deepen respiration, and tense your muscles. Short-lived, infrequent episodes of stress pose little risk to your health but detrimental side effects to your health may occur when the stressful situation remains unresolved. For people under long-term stress at work, their bodies remain in a constant state of activation, increasing the wear and tear to biological systems. Your risk of physical illness increases over sustained periods of stress as your body is unable to repair itself.

The Hard Costs of Stress in the Workplace

Work related stress is a leading cause of employee absenteeism. Workers experiencing high stress are twice as likely to be absent more than five times per year.

Health care expenditures are nearly 50% greater for workers who report high levels of stress. The cost of actively stressed-out, disengaged workers is estimated to be $370 billion to the U.S. economy per year in lost productivity.

While there are a number of causes of work-related stress, an often overlooked cause is the mismatch between the requirements of the job and the employee’s strengths. Job stress is experienced when working in a job that does not match your personality, talents, and strengths. The real problem may not be the workplace, but people working in jobs that they are not suited for.

Among the factors for feeling good about coming to work, two relate to the match between the worker and the job requirement or organization. People are happiest when they feel that the work they do in their job is meaningful and worthwhile and when they feel the organization is a good match for them. This means that people need to work in areas and for companies that draw on their unique strengths and talents in order to feel good about their job.

A recent survey conducted by The Conference Board found that worker satisfaction is at the lowest level since they began recording job satisfaction 22 years ago, with only 45% reporting job satisfaction.

Employees who are not satisfied in their work are not likely to be engaged while at work. Gallup estimates the number of extremely miserable employees who are “actively disengaged” to be 20 million, or 18% of the American workforce. Another 54% of the workforce is “not engaged”.

These numbers are alarming because disengaged workers are not as successful as their engaged colleagues leading to more unhappiness and more feelings of stress.

The current state of job dissatisfaction is often attributed to the economy which has produced mass layoffs, decreases in benefits and pay, and longer working hours with more job responsibility. But the downward trend in job satisfaction began long before the recession.

“Through both economic boom and bust during the past two decades, our job satisfaction numbers have shown a consistent downward trend,” reported Lynn Franc, director of the Consumer Research Center of the Conference Board.

“You can choose what you do, you can’t choose what you like to do,” says Gretchen Rubin, author of The Happiness Project. Working in a job you don’t like is not going to make you happy and may make you sick. Maybe now is the time to choose a job that you like to do.


Ready to lead a happy, healthier life? Make that shift today with results-oriented coaching – call Coach Carroll at 804.288.0099.