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Is your job hazardous to your health?

Maybe it's not your employer's fault

By Teresa Mears Sep 25, 2009 2:05PM

Chalk up another casualty of the recession: workers' health.

A new study released this week found that, despite all the concern over health care costs, the health of people with jobs is declining.


"Workers are putting in longer hours, afraid of losing their jobs. With less time to exercise, more than a third of employees report that work drains them of energy, leaving nothing for their personal lives,'' writes Cindy Krischer Goodman, who does the Work/Life Balancing Act column and blog for The Miami Herald.


The Families and Work Institute, in a report called "State of Health in the American Workforce," found:

  • 28% of employees report that their overall health is "excellent," down from 34% six years ago. Men's overall health has declined more rapidly than women's.
  • 41% of employees report experiencing three or more indicators of stress sometimes, often or very often.
  • One in three employees experiences one or more symptoms of clinical depression.
  • One in five employees has trouble falling asleep and 31% awaken too early and have trouble falling back to sleep.
  • 21% are receiving treatment for high blood pressure and 14% are being treated for high cholesterol.
  • Nearly half of U.S. employees (49%) have not engaged in regular physical exercise in the last 30 days.
  • Nearly two of three workers (62%) are overweight or obese.
  • One in four workers still smokes.

"Few would disagree that the health care path we are on represents an untenable route to increasing costs and diminishing returns," said Ellen Galinsky, co-founder and president of FWI, said in a news release. "The message is clear that beyond any reform measures on the table in Washington, it is urgent for employers and employees to pay attention to how they can promote better health, which ultimately will save money."


A few years ago, companies were talking about work-life balance. With the recession, companies want workers to put in whatever time and effort it takes to do the work that used to be done by two or three people. But the cost to workers -- and to companies that pay their health care bills -- may be higher than employers realize.


Leanne Chase at Career Life Connection wasn't surprised by any of the report's findings. But, she says, the question is what employees and employers should do to restore work-life balance and improve workers' health.


She advises workers to sometimes say no. "Yes we are in a recession and people need their jobs to keep a roof over the heads. I get that. But there are people who are more financially comfortable who can just say ‘no' when workplaces are unreasonable. And why wouldn't the workplace ask for more and more and more from workers. They don't say ‘no.' "


Sue Shellenbarger, in her Work & Family column in The Wall Street Journal, wrote about companies that make sure employees take vacations and keep their work lives in balance. A survey of 605 U.S. workers last spring by the Society for Human Resource Management found that 70% of employees work beyond scheduled time and on weekends, she wrote, and more than half blame "self-imposed pressure." She suggests that employees could actually get more done if they worked less.


How well do you balance work and life? Is your job getting in the way of your health? Do you make time for exercise and preparing healthy meals? What do you think employees and employers should do to improve workers' health? Could better work-life balance be one of the keys to lower health care costs in the United States?


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