Monitor on Psychology - September 2011 - (Page 46)
“We have been vastly underestimating the true cost of a sick worker,” said Dr. Sean nicholson, a Cornell University economist.
Job instability Convincing employers — and governments — of the importance of worker health will be increasingly important given the major economic changes we’ll see in the years ahead, said Nicholson. Economic and job instability, he said, are well-known stressors, and we need to better buffer people from their effects. The recession, for example, resulted in poorer health among Americans, said Nicholson, who pointed to Gallup polls finding that the employed took more sick leave and everyone felt more stressed. The only upside to the recession, in terms of health, was a decrease in traffic fatalities, as fewer people were commuting to work, Nicholson found.
Attend Work, Stress and Health 2013
the next Work, Stress, and Health Conference will be held in Los Angeles, May 16–19, 2013. Co-sponsored by APA, the national Institute for occupational Safety and Health, and the Society for occupational Health Psychology, the conference’s theme will be, “Protecting and Promoting total Worker Health.” For more information and to submit presentation proposals, visit www.apa.org/wsh.
Meanwhile, a wealth of research suggests that losing one’s job is an extremely stressful event that can result in health problems, said Tony Machin, PhD, a psychology professor at the University of Southern Queensland in Australia. One such study by Machin and his colleague Nancey Hoare, PhD, surveyed 115 unemployed Australians. Interestingly, they found that economic deprivation was only slightly related to people’s levels of distress. Rather, people suffered more from the loss of social support, daily routines and a sense of purpose, Machin said. The relatively small sense of economic deprivation, however, may be particular to countries that, like Australia, have strong social safety nets, said Tahira Probst, PhD, a psychology professor at Washington State University. Using data from 15,200 employees in 24 countries, Probst compared levels of job insecurity, satisfaction and commitment based on the workers’ countries level of economic security — for instance, whether governments offered worker retraining programs and unemployment insurance. Overall, workers with good safety nets were less affected by the stress of job insecurity than those without that protection, Probst said. The upshot? “Countries who want committed, satisfied workers should strengthen their social safety nets, particularly during times of economic insecurity,” she said. We need those social safety nets now more than ever, said Rudy Fenwick, PhD, a sociology professor at the University of Akron, in Ohio, because although the recession is over, job instability is here to stay. Companies increasingly rely on a core set of workers plus a larger, “flexible” work force of temporary and contract employees, who they can hire and let go as needed, he said. That new business model, compounded with rapidly changing industry and longer lifespans, means that workers should expect to have many employers and careers over the course of their lives. Given the realities of the new economy, vocational psychologists should help people prepare to think flexibly about their careers, said Frederick Leong, PhD, a psychology professor at Michigan State University. He and his colleagues are examining career adaptability among a cohort of 400 high school students. So far, they have found support for a four-factor model of career flexibility: concern for where your industry is going; taking control of your career; displaying curiosity about what careers you might have in the future; and having the confidence to pursue your goals. Students who have these crucial ingredients will thrive in the new economy, Leong predicts. “It’s tough out there, but people who are willing to explore their options and aren’t locked in to one particular career are likely to do well,” he said. n To view a slide show of keynote speaker Sean Nicholson’s presentation, click here.
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Monitor on psychology • septeMber 2011
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