Study Finds That Flexibility in High-Stress Jobs May Help Workers Live Longer

Lack of control over workflows in high-stress jobs may lead to increased risk of dying

Study Finds That Flexibility in High-Stress Jobs May Help Workers Live Longer
Image: Pixabay
October 18, 2016

A new study out of the Indiana University Kelley School of Business has found that employees who have little control over their workflows in high-stress jobs may be at risk of dying younger.

Researchers analyzed 2,363 people living in Wisconsin who are in their 60s. After seven years, they discovered that the participants who had little control over workflows in their high-demand jobs were at a 15.4 percent greater risk of dying when compared with those who had little control in low-stress jobs.

"We explored job demands, or the amount of work, time pressure and concentration demands of a job, and job control, or the amount of discretion one has over making decisions at work, as joint predictors of death," said Erik Gonzalez-Mulé, assistant professor of organizational behavior and human resources at the Kelley School and lead author of the study.

Workers who had greater control in high-demand jobs were 34 percent less likely to die than those who had less control in stressful positions.

According to Gonzalez-Mulé, the findings "suggest that stressful jobs have clear negative consequences for employee health when paired with low freedom in decision-making, while stressful jobs can actually be beneficial to employee health if also paired with freedom in decision-making."

The results also underline how important flexibility and discretion in the workplace are. Being able to set goals for oneself and have input into how work is done, says Gonzalez-Mulé, may positively impact the health of employees.

"You can avoid the negative health consequences if you allow them to set their own goals, set their own schedules, prioritize their decision-making and the like," he said.

He also stated that more flexibility could also lead to thinner employees. The study also found that workers who worked in high-stress jobs with little control weighed more than those who had greater control in demanding jobs.

To explain the reasons for this, he pointed out that "when you don't have the necessary resources to deal with a demanding job, you do this other stuff. You might eat more, you might smoke, you might engage in some of these things to cope with it."

Gonzalez-Mulé believes that the finds highlight the benefits of job crafting, a process that enables workers to make their jobs into something more meaningful for them. Research has shown that this process can lead to happier and more productive workers.

He does note that this would not be feasible in certain settings, such as construction. However, in other settings, it would be much more possible. Employers in factories, for example, could show workers the outcome of what they do with flex-time and pay based on piece-rate.