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Work stress can be as harmful as secondhand smoking study shows

Student stress

Stressful jobs can increase illness and death rates. | Photo illustration by Sonia Zuniga

According to a new study by researchers at Harvard Business School and Stanford University, stress at work is just as bad as secondhand smoking.

The report got evidence from 228 studies “assessing the effects of ten workplace stressors on four health outcomes,” according to the report. High job demands increased the chances of getting diagnosed with stress-related illness by 35 percent.

This isn’t surprising to mathematical biology alumnus Laura Ramirez. The stress of waking up every day at 5 a.m. to sustain her nursing job can be overwhelming at times.

“I don’t want to let anyone down,” Ramirez said. “I worked so hard, and if I have to sacrifice a few things, like sleep, along the way, then I will.”

Long works days can increase her chances of dying early by 20 percent according to the report. The fear of losing a job increases deteriorating health by a whopping 50 percent.

One of the researchers, assistant professor of business administration at Harvard Business School Joel Goh, found this coincidentally made sense.

“When you think about how much time individuals typically spend at work, it’s not that surprising,” said Goh.

Ten stressors looked into included extended working hours, shifting schedule, work-family dilemmas, work control, job demand, social assistance, social networking chances, organizational fairness, health insurance benefits and employment status.

Working a part-time or full-time job while attending UH’s full-time schedule is what many students do. The stress of doing well as a student, friend and worker among other tasks is a juggling act, a feeling photography junior Gabriel Guerrero knows all too well.

“I come here full-time, but I also have to spend an additional three hours studying and working on the small projects they give us,” Guerrero said. “Then I still have to go to work and have to get things settled as I’m just moving out these past weeks.”

What surprised him was that his health might be jeopardized just as much as if he was hanging around a group of smokers.

“Some of my friends smoke, but I thought if I hung out with them for a long time, I could have a chance of getting lung cancer,” Guerrero said. “Now, to think that stressing at work can be just as bad, well that just stresses me even more.”

According to the Americans for Nonsmokers’ Rights, about 53,000 people die every year from secondhand smoke exposure.

One of the goals towards this research is to get employers and companies to get some regulations and exercises which could help combat employers’ stress levels.

“Policies (should be) designed to reduce health costs and improve health outcomes,” according to the Behavioral Science and Policy Association report. “(They) should account for the health effects of the workplace environment.”

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