High-Stress Jobs Linked to Higher Health Costs

Job-related stress caused workers to increasingly seek help from health professionals for physical, mental and emotional ailments, according to a study by economists at Montreal’s Concordia University, who found that the number of visits to health care professionals was up to 26 percent higher for workers in high-stress jobs.

The study, Psychosocial Working Conditions and the Utilization of Health Care Services, was published August 2011 in BMC Public Health.

“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 study lead author Sunday Azagba, a Ph.D. 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). All NPHS figures were restricted to adults aged 18 to 65 years—the bulk of the labor 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 Ph.D. 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,” Sharaf continued. “Numerous studies have linked stress to back pain, colorectal cancer, infectious disease, heart problems, headaches and diabetes. Job stress may also heighten risky behaviors such as smoking, drug and alcohol abuse, and discourage healthy behaviors such as physical activity and proper diet and increase consumption of fatty and sweet foods.”

Previous research has found that aging populations and prescription drugs increase the price of health care. Yet few studies have so far correlated workplace stress rates on health care costs.

Easing Workplace Stress

The economists suggested that easing workplace stress could help governments reduce soaring health budgets and bolster employee morale.

“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.”

The occupations analyzed as part of the Canadian National Population Health Survey included seven categories: mechanical, trade, professional, managerial, health, service and farm.

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