[Homestead] Work ethics of fear, stress, chair and monitor a death sentence
tvoivozd at infionline.net
Sun Sep 5 00:32:27 EDT 2004
It is hard to change the mindset of the past---loyalty to an employer
and desire to do a good job. But to keep your sanity and health you
have to place your own welfare first. That means viewing an employer as
an easily-dispensed with commodity, as employers view you for at least
the past couple decades---obscured of course by happyspeak. So start
looking for a better job the first day you show up in your new office.
And you've got to get away from your eight-to-five secretarial chair and
staring at a monitor for all that time---the combination of continual
stress and physical inactivity will put you in the hospital or the
morgue at an early age.
If you can do it, a home business is your best option. As your own boss
you may demand an eighty hour week, but you won't fire you and you have
control over the conditions of work. You want a thousand customers as
your other boss, not one that is totally indifferent to your welfare.
The New York Times
September 5, 2004
*SICK OF WORK*
Always on the Job, Employees Pay With Health
*By JOHN SCHWARTZ*
American workers are stressed out, and in an unforgiving economy, they
are becoming more so every day.
Sixty-two percent say their workload has increased over the last six
months; 53 percent say work leaves them "overtired and overwhelmed."
Even at home, in the soccer bleachers or at the Labor Day picnic,
workers are never really off the clock, bound to BlackBerries,
cellphones and laptops. Add iffy job security, rising health care costs,
ailing pension plans and the fear that a financial setback could put
mortgage payments out of reach, and the office has become, for many, an
echo chamber of angst.
It is enough to make workers sick - and it does.
Decades of research have linked stress to everything from heart attacks
and stroke to diabetes and a weakened immune system. Now, however,
researchers are connecting the dots, finding that the growing stress and
uncertainty of the office have a measurable impact on workers' health
and, by extension, on companies' bottom lines.
Workplace stress costs the nation more than $300 billion each year in
health care, missed work and the stress-reduction industry that has
grown up to soothe workers and keep production high, according to
estimates by the American Institute of Stress in New York. And workers
who report that they are stressed, said Steven L. Sauter, chief of the
Organizational Science and Human Factors Branch of the National
Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, incur health care costs
that are 46 percent higher, or an average of $600 more per person, than
"The costs are significant," Dr. Sauter said, adding, "Those are just
the costs to the organization, and not the burden to individuals and to
American workers are not the only ones grappling with escalating stress
and ever greater job demands. European companies are changing
once-generous vacation policies, and stress-related illnesses cost
England 13 million working days each year, one British health official
"It's an issue everywhere you go in the world," said Dr. Guy Standing,
the lead author of "Economic Security for a Better World," a new report
from the International Labor Office, an agency of the United Nations.
White-collar workers are particularly at risk, Dr. Standing said,
because "we tend to take our work home."
Most stress-related health problems are a far cry from the phenomenon
known in Japan as karoshi, or "death from overwork." But downsizing,
rapid business expansion, outsourcing - trends that some have credited
with increasing the nation's economic health - translate into increases
in sick days, hospitalization, the risk of heart attack and a host of
other stress-related problems, researchers find.
The changing workplace, said Hugo Westerlund, a researcher at the
National Institute for Psychosocial Medicine in Stockholm, "does pose a
threat to people's health."
Growth of the Untraditional Job
The days when an employer said "if you do your job, you'll have a job"
are long gone.
The traditional career, progressing step by step through the corridors
of one or two institutions, "is finished," said Dr. Richard Sennett, a
sociologist at New York University. He has calculated that a young
American today with at least two years of college can expect to change
jobs at least 11 times before retirement.
Business has moved away from traditional employment, now an almost
quaint concept described in a recent RAND Corporation study as
"full-time jobs of indefinite duration at a facility owned or rented by
Instead, that study found, one in every four workers in the United
States is "in some nontraditional employment relationship," including
part-time work and self-employment. Four out of 10 Americans now work
"mostly at nonstandard time," according to figures cited by Harriet
Presser of the University of Maryland. The odd hours include evenings,
nights, rotating shifts and weekends to meet the demands of global
supply chains and customers in every time zone.
These jobs require an increasing amount of time as well. Workers in the
United States already put in more than 1,800 hours on the job a year:
350 hours more than the Germans and slightly more than the Japanese,
according to the International Labor Office.
Nonwork hours have also been increasingly invaded by technologies that
act like a virtual leash.
"The distinction between work and nonwork time is getting fuzzier all
the time," said Donald I. Tepas, professor emeritus of industrial
psychology at the University of Connecticut, who has studied the health
and safety effects of overwork and sleeplessness.
One result is an office culture where too much work is not enough.
And while some workers thrive in the changing workplace, others find
their workplaces ruled by what one expert, Joanne B. Ciulla of the
University of Richmond, calls "the work ethic of fear."
More than 30 percent of workers say they are "always" or "often" under
stress at work, according to the National Opinion Research Center at the
University of Chicago, and a quarter of those surveyed in 2002 said
there often were not enough co-workers to get the job done.
Other surveys show no end in sight. In a new report, Kronos Inc., a
human resources firm, found that 62 percent of American workers said
that their job activities and responsibilities had increased over the
past six months and that they had not used all of their allotted
vacation time in the past year. And 60 percent of those surveyed said
they did not expect any respite from increased working hours in the next
Little wonder, then, that Dr. Richard A. Chaifetz, chief executive of
ComPsych, the largest provider of employee assistance programs, said
"the stress levels today are clearly higher than they were a few years
The strain of working in an uncertain economic world weighed heavily on
Sergey Shevchuk, a former programmer for financial services companies.
He said he was caught in an emotional vise while the companies tried to
weather the post-2000 stock slump by purging the ranks and looking
toward cheaper labor through outsourcing.
"I was depressed and getting easily sick very often," he recalled. "I
was coming home empty."
Mr. Shevchuk has since left the world of programming, where his work
could bring $135,000 a year, and started Distinct Construction Service,
a home contracting business in Fairlawn, N.J.
Diane Knorr, a former dot-com executive, said she believed that the
stress of her job contributed to persistent stomach pain and
sleeplessness. At first, she said, the feeling of being on call at all
hours was exciting.
"The first time I got a call way after hours from a senior manager, I
remember being really flattered" and thinking, "Wow! I'm really getting
up there now."
But gradually, her work and family life became a blur with hours that
were hard to scale back.
"If I leave at 5 and everyone else leaves at 6:30, I might look like the
one who is not pulling his weight," she said.
In college, Ms. Knorr set a goal of making a six-figure salary by the
time she was 49. She reached it at 35, and "nothing happened; no
balloons dropped," she said. "That's when I really became aware of that
A doctor suggested that she begin taking an antidepressant for the
stomach pain, "which struck me as bizarre," she said.
The doctor described it as a treatment to increase the amount of
serotonin in the digestive tract, but Ms. Knorr said she now realized he
might have been giving her a subtle message about her own level of
anxiety and depression. She eventually quit her job, and used her
savings to start a nonprofit group, Wonder Inc., which provides mentors
and activities for foster children.
Work can be seductive, said Dr. Arlie Hochschild, a sociologist at the
University of California, Berkeley. One in five of the people she
interviewed in the course of research for her book "The Time Bind" said
the rewards of work could actually become stronger than the comforts of
home, so "home became work, and work became home."
Dr. Hochschild warns of "the splintered self," a state of constant
distraction, doing one thing and expecting another.
"It's not just time" that is lost, she said, "it's basically attention:
what we give to one another."
Stress Equals Illness
Researchers are beginning to document the toll that the changing nature
of work takes on health. The National Institute for Occupational Safety
and Health, which has studied the links for decades, began a major
initiative two years ago to study "the changing organization of work"
and has worked with the American Psychological Association to build up
the field of occupational health psychology at a dozen academic
Downsizing, studies find, is associated with poorer health, whether
workers are fired or survive the downsizing and continue in their jobs.
Pioneering studies in Scandinavia, where centralized health care allows
researchers access to vast databases of medical conditions and
treatment, also have shown a strong link between downsizing and illness.
A study by Finnish researchers published in February in the British
Medical Journal, for example, found the risk of dying from a heart
attack doubled among permanent employees after a major round of
downsizing, with the risk growing to five times normal after four years.
Two other studies, led by Dr. Westerlund, the Swedish researcher,
suggest that other forms of strain in the workplace can also affect
health. An analysis of medical records for 24,036 Swedish workers from
1991 to 1996 found that in workplaces that underwent large-scale
expansions, the workers were 7 percent more likely to take sick leave of
90 days or more and 9 percent more likely to enter a hospital for some
Health risks rose if the expansion, defined in the study as more than 18
percent annual job growth, continued year after year, he said. Employees
in companies experiencing moderate growth, on the other hand, were
slightly less likely to take extended leave, perhaps because the growth
rate was more manageable.
One explanation for why expansion might lead to poor health, Dr.
Westerlund said, is that it often involves tumult: in some cases,
offices expand when the parent company centralizes operations or merges
offices through downsizing.
In another study, Dr. Westerlund and colleagues gave a series of medical
tests to 3,904 white-collar employees working in stable businesses and
workers in other companies in various states of stressful transition,
including reorganization, downsizing and outsourcing, in some cases
because the companies were threatened by the difficulties of competing
in a global marketplace.
The workers in organizations that were in transition had
higher-than-average levels of cholesterol, high blood pressure and other
biochemical markers of heart disease risk, the researchers found.
"All forms of structural insecurity or instability may pose risks for
the health of the employees," Dr. Westerlund and his colleagues wrote,
"although the mechanisms may vary."
One result of this uncertainty, experts say, is that employees are
increasingly turning to medication like antidepressants and anti-anxiety
drugs to help them cope with the added pressures.
"Medication has, for some people, become a coping mechanism to help them
feel better so they can perform better," Dr. Chaifetz of ComPsych said.
Some researchers are trying to tease out the types of stress that are
most detrimental to workers. In a large study conducted in the 1990's,
Dr. David M. Almeida, a developmental psychologist and associate
professor of human development and family studies at Penn State,
interviewed 1,500 people, asking about their "daily hassles" and
"chronic stressors" at work and at home over a period of eight days.
Different types of stress produced different reactions, Dr. Almeida
found. Tension with co-workers and overbearing bosses was more likely to
lead to psychological and physical health symptoms, he said, while
deadline pressure could actually "make you feel masterful."
Central to understanding how much stress the workers experienced, he
said, was whether they felt in control. Citing research by Robert A.
Karasek of the University of Massachusetts and colleagues, he said
workers who felt that they had a measure of control over their
environment were far less likely to find work stressful than those who
felt utterly at the mercy of a capricious boss, a child's illness or a
That combination effect is well known to psychiatrists like Jeffrey P.
Kahn, president of WorkPsych Associates, a consulting firm in New York.
"Stress at home plus stress at work doesn't equal two units" of stress,
he said. "It equals five."
Dr. Almeida is now starting a second round of surveys, with an
additional biological dimension: the interviews about daily stress
levels will be augmented with a twice-a-day self-administered test for
levels of a stress hormone, cortisol.
The physiological changes associated with stress are part of a complex
system that once saved the lives of human ancestors, warning them of
danger, said Dr. Bruce S. McEwen, director of the neuroendocrinology
laboratory at Rockefeller University. The quick flood of hormones like
adrenaline and cortisol pump up the body for fight or flight.
"We wouldn't do very well without our stress hormones," he said.
But human physiology, Dr. McEwen said, was not intended to handle the
chronic stress that is an inescapable accompaniment of modern life. The
wear and tear of long hours, ringing phones, uncertain working
conditions and family demands lead to what he calls "allostatic load," a
stress switch stuck in the half-on position. The result: fatigue,
frustration, anger and burnout.
Dr. McEwen and other stress researchers have linked persistent stress to
a variety of conditions, including obesity, impaired memory, suppressed
immune function and hardening of the arteries.
What is more, chronic stress contributes to behavior that makes it
harder to recover, he said. For example, sleep deprivation may increase
hunger, causing a stressed-out worker to seek comfort in a midnight bowl
of pasta or a nightcap, which can lead to further weight gain or
Researchers are also finding links between stress and disease at the
molecular level. At Ohio State University, for example, Dr. Ronald
Glaser, a viral immunologist, and his wife, Dr. Janice Kiecolt-Glaser, a
psychologist, are reaching across disciplines to understand how stress
Working with other researchers at Ohio State, they have studied the
immune response of people who live with an enormous burden of stress:
people who care for a spouse who is suffering from Alzheimer's disease,
and who are, on average, 70 years old. The immune systems of the
caregivers are clearly compromised, they found.
"What we know about stress is that it's probably even worse than we
thought," Dr. Kiecolt-Glaser said.
Their most recent work focuses on cytokines, molecules produced by white
blood cells, and in particular interleukin 6, which plays a beneficial
role in cell communication. Like cortisol and adrenaline, interleukin 6
can damage the body in large and persistent doses, slowing the return to
normal after stressful events. It has been linked to conditions that
include arthritis, cardiovascular disease, delayed healing and cancer,
Dr. Glaser said.
The immune systems of the highly stressed subjects, Dr. Glaser said,
"had the levels of Il-6 that we saw in the controls that were 90 years
old," which suggests that their experiences "seemed to be aging the
immune system" drastically.
These results might be especially important for older workers.
"If you're 50 years old and you hate your job, you're going to be
stressed; that probably translates into immune changes," he said.
Stressful working conditions can have more indirect effects, worsening
illnesses that are already present.
Libbi Lepow, who lives in Kensington, Calif., worked at a dot-com that
epitomized the 24/7 lifestyle. Her days, she said, were dominated by
"action junkies," who she said lived on adrenaline.
"There has to be a crisis, or these folks feel that they aren't doing
anything," she said.
Before long, Ms. Lepow said she was gaining weight and getting by on
junk food and soda.
By March 2001, the combination of stress, lack of sleep and poor
nutrition apparently contributed to a flare-up of multiple sclerosis, a
condition that she had lived with at a low level for years.
The company, she said, was "very kind to me," and allowed her to
continue working from home, but work continued to affect her.
"I never took a nap without the two phones in the room," she said, and
people called constantly. "It was still exhausting," she said. She
resigned in June 2002 and now lives on disability.
The Benefits of Slowing Down
Recognizing workplace stress might be as simple as counting the broken
pencils on a desk, but doing something about it is harder.
"We cannot stop change," Dr. Westerlund said, although it may be
possible to "help the people cope with the environment."
The advice that most experts offer is deceptively simple: Dr. McEwen,
for example, recommends getting enough sleep, avoiding cigarettes and
alcohol, eating sensibly and exercising.
Emotional support can also make a difference, Dr. Kiecolt-Glaser said.
By "overworking, not spending time with family and friends, you're
limiting the things that are most likely to do you good," she said.
Career consultants tell clients to examine the degree to which they
themselves are the ones cracking the whip.
"Consider the possibility that you are colluding in your own demise,"
said Rayona Sharpnack, founder of the Institute for Women's Leadership
in Redwood City, Calif. "Suffering," she said, "is optional."
Ms. Lepow, whose work stress contributed to her disability, calls her
illness "a kind of gift," because without it, she said, "I could have
lived my whole life without stopping."
She recalled striding across her deck to her home office without ever
taking in the view.
"It took something like this disease to make me stop and slow down," she
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