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Worked to Death: Your Stressful Job Might Be Killing You

Joseph Sparks

3rd November 2016

The link between stress and illness is well documented. However, a recent study suggests that the combination of a demanding job where a person is afforded little control might event shorten your life!

Gonzalez-Mule (2016) explained: "We found that individuals in highly stressful jobs with little control die at a younger age than workers who have more control in their jobs.”

The research examined 2,363 people who took part in a longitudinal study in Wisconsin. The volunteers were between 63-67 years old. The participants answered questions about their jobs back in 2004 and then the researchers tracked their health until 2011. Gonzalez-Mule defines a low level of control as: "an inability to set one's own goals, decide how to accomplish tasks and prioritize work." Gonzalez-Mule then compared control with death rates and found that low control was associated with a 15.4% increase in death.

Fortunately, it’s not all doom and gloom, as the researchers also found that the reverse was true. Workers in highly-demanding jobs who had a high degree of control appeared less stress and had a reduced chance of death (during the study) by 34%.

For those of us studying stress, it is interesting to note that this study links to the role of stress in illness and source of stress outlined in the new specification. The idea of workload and control forms part of the new specification, and while research like this might seem alarming, it is nothing more than an association between these two factors.

So why is a lack of control associated with death?

Gonzalez-Mule suggests that "Workers who have less control over their stressful jobs are more likely to be overweight” and therefore it is not the control per se that’s associated with death but the other factors associated with a stressful job. "The idea is that people find ways to cope with stress, like engaging in unhealthy behaviours such as smoking, having a sedentary lifestyle or eating unhealthy foods," he said.

On that note - I’m off to the gym!

To read the full article by Gonzalez-Mule & Cockburn (2016) click here.

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Joseph Sparks

Joseph is a Subject Advisor for Psychology at tutor2u. He is an experienced Psychology & Music Teacher, Writer, Examiner and Presenter. He is currently completing a Professional Doctorate in Education and is passionate about the impact of technology on teaching and learning.

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