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Dying for a Paycheck

Today's post comes to us courtesy of board member David Creelman

Jeffrey Pfeffer's excellent new book “Dying for a Paycheck: How Modern Management Harms Employee Health and Company Performance - and What We Can Do About Itidentifies an important opportunity for American business: stop creating conditions that drive employees to premature death.

Businesses have done a great job improving the physical safety of the workplace. Pfeffer points out that the number of workplace injuries fell by 72 percent from 1970 to 2015. However, the evidence is clear that toxic psychological environments have a serious impact on health. The underlying issue is stress. We know a lot about what creates stress in the workplace and how that affects health. Pfeffer identifies ten factors that damage the health of our people including working long hours in a week, the absence of job control (the ability to control what you do at work and the pace at which you do it) and being in a work environment that offers low levels of social support.

The case for making this a priority is two-fold. The first is about values; companies typically don't want to harm employees and if they are unknowingly doing so then they'll want to stop. The second reason for bringing this to the top of the agenda is that a damaging workplace hurts profitability.

What makes change difficult is that, in the short term, it often looks like we can improve profitability by taking actions which create chronic stress. For example, it's easy to praise the employee who works very long hours and hard to recognize how that can lead to an environment that, over time, harms productivity. Similarly, it's tempting to schedule shifts to minimize labor costs this week, not realizing that unhealthy scheduling will undermine performance in the long run.

Pfeffer's recommendation is that we begin measuring the factors that lead to unsafe psychological work conditions and report those to top leadership; just as we report on unsafe physical work conditions. The measurement and reporting on accidents led to the dramatic improvement of physically safety; there is no reason we can't repeat that success.

If you are a professional who understands the importance of Pfeffer's research, then you need to actively champion it. The normal thing to do, at least for American businesses, is to create damaging work environments; it will take sustained argument to teach leadership how much this is costing them and how that can be changed.

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