High Stress Jobs May Not Be As Unhealthy as You Think

High demand jobs can certainly cause stress, which can eventually lead to poor health, chronic illness, and even early death. A new study, however, reveals how the concept of “control” may improve your health, even in a high-stress position.

Organizational Behavior

According to the results of a seven-year study, health and mortality are not necessarily linked to a high-demand job. It’s the level of control the employee has (or even perceives she has) that shifts the pendulum.

A worker experiences greater stress and unhappiness when a manager assumes all control. People (employees) want to feel they are part of their activity; they can’t thrive in an environment when someone else makes all the decisions for them.

The Study’s Findings

The researchers at Indiana University’s Kelley School of Business discovered some interesting results from their study. They found that those in high-stress jobs with little or no control die younger than those who have some or a lot of control.

“A lot of control” doesn’t mean not having a boss or anyone to be accountable to. It means something as simple as, for example, making your own schedule. Being part of how to set goals and accomplish tasks in the workplace is part of having control. These types of freedoms on the job are empowering to workers.

Good Stress

In fact, a useful and positive observed result was that those in high-demand positions, who also had high-control, actually flourished. Erik Gonzales Mule was the study’s lead author. He suggested that having more control can motivate workers and can breed better health. Mule points out an example: “…having pressure to work fast and use intense concentration, may result in feelings of accomplishment and mastery.”

The study included 2,400 people (half men/half women) and tracked their health for over seven years. Those in high-demand jobs with low control fared the worst. Those in high-stress positions but with high control decreased their chances of earlier death by 34%.

Job Satisfaction

How we perceive our work and workplace definitely affects our overall well-being. If we’re unhappy for the largest portion of our day, behaviors may emerge to mask the bad feelings. This can result in poor diet or overeating, alcohol or drug abuse, etc. Or, the stress can lead to depression, high blood pressure, etc.

So, perhaps it’s not literally “the job.” Maybe it’s how we are allowed to do our job. Having more control can lend to employee feelings of empowerment. Morale at work can be boosted. Instead of seeing work as “hard”, when given the freedom to participate, the work can then be seen as challenging or an opportunity to problem-solve. Those are far more positive outlooks and approaches to doing one’s job.

Personal Stress Management

When you’re at work and finding yourself too stressed out, you can always take a moment for some deep breaths, a quick walk (even around the desk), or a break outdoors. But in addition to your honed coping skills, perhaps think about your company, boss, or management. Do you feel you have low control? If so, perhaps some suggestions to human resources could affect positive change for you and your workplace.

After all, feeling good about your work—whether it pays well, is rewarding spiritually, or makes you feel like you are contributing and/or you’re appreciated—any positive feelings will be part of your best health regimen.