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Does your job tell you how long you will live?

Behaviour, Depression, Heart, General, Mental Health | May 31, 2016 | Author: The Super Pharmacist

Heart Attack, heart disease, heart, mental health, depression, life expectancy, work stress

Does your job tell you how long you will live?

Life expectancy varies considerably from country to country. In Australia, for example, people live 36 years longer on average than they do in Rwanda.1

This may be expected given differences in access to medicine, legal stability, violent conflict, and sanitation between countries. However, life expectancy can vary greatly within the same country for different lifestyle conditions. Depending on where someone lives in the United States, their racial background, their socioeconomic status, life expectancy can differ by over three decades.2

Over the last two decades, this life expectancy gap is growing among Western nations.3,4 New research is emerging that sheds light on the cause of this life expectancy gap, namely workplace stress.5 In fact, between 10 and 38% of the difference in life expectancy across various groups may be directly related to different job conditions.

Job conditions found to reduce life expectancy

Researchers identified seven new job Does your job tell you how long you will live?conditions—all inherently stressful—that directly contributed to reduced life expectancy

These are:

  • Low social support at work
  • High job demands
  • Low job control
  • Job insecurity
  • Shift work
  • Inadequate health insurance
  • Periods of unemployment or layoffs

Obviously, socioeconomic status complicates this analysis.

We have known for a long time that socioeconomic status affects longevity (i.e. people in lower socioeconomic level do not live as long as those at a higher level). Indeed, life expectancy was considerably worse among people with 12 or fewer years of education compared to those of 17 or more years of education.5 However, even people at higher educational and income levels (who generally live longer because of their socioeconomic status) have decreased life expectancy when their job demands are high and they have little control over their jobs. As much as 10% of early mortality was due to a stressful workplace while as little as 12% was due to educational attainment. In other words, stress at work appears to be an independent risk factor for a shorter life.

The impact of workplace stress on employee health

Chronic job stress is defined as -

“the harmful physical and emotional responses that occur when the requirements of a job do not match the capabilities, resources, or needs of the worker”

Depression and suicideThis is becming as a substantial and growing problem.

Over the short term, job stress may lead to increased alcohol consumption, elevated blood pressure, and depressive symptoms.

Chronic job stress may cause or contribute to alcoholism, hypertension, and major depression.6

Workplace stress may be an intense stressful single event or a prolonged series of small or large stressors.

In the face of a severe stressor, virtually everyone will develop at least a transient post-traumatic stress reaction.7 These may resolve or they may result in a prolonged condition called post-traumatic stress disorder or PTSD.8,9

Workplace PTSD can occur in virtually any work environment, but is more likely among some professions including healthcare professionals, journalists, soldiers, sailors, emergency medical workers, police officers, fighter fires (i.e. first responders).7

Employees who have encountered armed robbery, violence, or disasters within the workplace a much more likely develop workplace PTSD than those who have not been exposed to the stressors.

Work-related stressors have been linked to the development of ischemic heart disease, such as unstable angina and heart attack. Specifically, jobs with high psychological demands and a lack of social support heavily influence the development of ischemic heart disease.10,11,12

Job strain and lack of job control are independently associated with insomnia which has it own array of health complications.13,14

Depression and suicideDepression and suicide

Psychological job stress increases the risk of developing or worsening depression.14

Moreover, lack of decision-making ability, job strain, and workplace bullying, significantly increase the risk of depressive symptoms and major depressive disorder.15

A review of 16 studies including 63,000 employees identified job stress as a significant factor in developing major depressive disorder, more than doubling a person’s inherent risk of developing the condition.16

People with depression live shorter lives.17 This could be related to increased risk of cardiac disease and related health problems. While it is more difficult to discuss, there is direct evidence to show that workplace stress and depression are directly tied to increased suicide rates among affected employees.18 Higher rates of suicide can certainly explain at least part of reduced average life expectancy.

Unemployment is a significant stressor

Unemployment and the fear of losing one’s job is a severe stressor. These factors account for up to 6% of reduced life expectancy among working age individuals.5 In a study population of nearly 8,000, researchers found a significant association with high rates of unemployment and later life disability. Likewise, unemployment was associated with lower life expectancy.19 Importantly, these results still held after accounting for age, sex, race/ethnicity, education, health status at baseline and throughout work life, and social support.

Correcting the problem

While it is impossible to eliminate workplace stress or all episodes of workplace violence, the work environment can be made safer. Some managers are taking these risks to employees seriously and implementing new programs to reduce workplace stressors.20 Some data suggest these efforts are at least partially helpful.21,22

Correcting the problemMore than a dozen workplace suicide prevention programs have been developed for various high risk professions.23

Importantly, those affected by workplace stress can and should receive timely treatment.

While heart disease, insomnia, and major depressive disorder can be treated directly, employees at risk for workplace stress disorders can receive pre-emptive or preventative support to reduce their reactions to workplace stress.

Groundbreaking work is being done on vulnerability and resiliency.24 While the field is relatively new, some interventions can be used to decrease the former and bolster the latter.25,26,27 In this way, people who are predisposed to workplace stress or who work in particularly stressful fields can be “stress inoculated” to become more resilient in the face of future workplace stressors. Australia's best online pharmacy


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3 Olshansky SJ, Antonucci T, Berkman L, et al. Differences in life expectancy due to race and educational differences are widening, and many may not catch up. Health Aff (Millwood). Aug 2012;31(8):1803-1813. doi:10.1377/hlthaff.2011.0746

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17 Zivin K, Ilgen MA, Pfeiffer PN, et al. Early mortality and years of potential life lost among Veterans Affairs patients with depression. Psychiatr Serv. Aug 2012;63(8):823-826. doi:10.1176/

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19 Laditka JN, Laditka SB. Unemployment, disability and life expectancy in the United States: A life course study. Disabil Health J. Jan 2016;9(1):46-53. doi:10.1016/j.dhjo.2015.08.003

20 Colvin G. The new trend? Reducing stress in the workplace-by order of management. Fortune. Aug 11 2014;170(2):42.

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23 Milner A, Page K, Spencer-Thomas S, Lamotagne AD. Workplace suicide prevention: a systematic review of published and unpublished activities. Health Promotion International. March 1, 2015 2015;30(1):29-37. doi:10.1093/heapro/dau085

24 McEwen BS, Gianaros PJ. Central role of the brain in stress and adaptation: links to socioeconomic status, health, and disease. Ann N Y Acad Sci. Feb 2010;1186:190-222. doi:10.1111/j.1749-6632.2009.05331.x

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27 Edward KL. The phenomenon of resilience in crisis care mental health clinicians. Int J Ment Health Nurs. Jun 2005;14(2):142-148. doi:10.1111/j.1440-0979.2005.00371.x

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