Study Links Workplace Gender Issues to Stress, Health and Rising Health Care Costs

One in three Americans may be making themselves sick just by going to work each day, according to a new study commissioned by LLuminari, a national health education firm.

The study shows that differences in the way men and women are managed fueled by the differences in what they value most at work puts both genders at risk for cardiovascular problems, depression and a higher susceptibility to infectious diseases. The study indicates that gender-based differences in workplace values can create a company culture of underlying stress and conflict that affects the physical and emotional health of both men and women. The study, titled "Creating Healthy Corporate Cultures for Both Genders," also shows that women are at a higher health risk from workplace stress than men.

"All companies are looking for solutions to reduce healthcare costs," said Elizabeth Browning, CEO of LLuminari. "The answer isn't just about gyms and healthier choices in the cafeterias. The study shows that a complete solution must include addressing corporate workplace culture and its link to a healthy workforce."

Men and women emphasized entirely different values as important in the workplace, said LLuminari expert Marianne Legato, M.D., founder and director of the Partnership for Gender-Based Medicine, Columbia University, and one of the study's lead advisers. Legato said the study reveals the three values in the workplace most important to men are pay and benefits; achievement and success; status and authority. While these values also are important to women, ranking higher in importance were friends at work and relationships; recognition and respect, and communication and collaboration.

"Women emphasized the congeniality of coworkers and the friendliness and relationships that surrounded them," Dr. Legato said. "Men emphasized how much they were making and how much control or power they had over what they were doing."

Browning suggested that organizations that seek to understand their own workplace cultures and that recognize that women and men are fundamentally different in ways that impact their health, will have a distinct advantage. "Male and female managers who are sensitive to gender differences will have the ability to bring out the best of both genders toward achieving results," she noted. "The health of the organization depends on the health of the individual. Since women now represent half of the workforce, we need to understand how corporate cultures that have evolved largely based on male models can become healthy for both genders."

Alice Domar, Ph.D., director of the Mind/Body Center for Women's Health at Boston IVF, and assistant professor of OB/GYN and Reproductive Biology at Harvard Medical School, said that it is the disconnection between these gender-based values that creates on-the-job stress, which can lead to subsequent health issues for employees. "Research has shown that women and men respond differently to stress. Women also report having more to worry about each day. Men on average worried about three things on a daily basis (their immediate family, job and money). Women worried about up to 12 things, including their immediate family, job and money, but also their extended family, the home, the social and academic lives of the children, social connections with neighbors and friends, and more," Domar explained.

Results from the study show that corporate culture the values, beliefs, and attitudes that drive the behaviors, systems and structures of the organization have a major impact on organizational health and the quality of work life for employees. Workers feel stressed when their values are not addressed by the culture of the organization.

"The study reveals that 62 percent of respondents don't think employers try to minimize stress and half felt their employer didn't care about their well being," Petersen said. "In addition, the study indicated that women reported nearly 40 percent more health problems than their male counterparts and noticeably higher stress."

The study found that:

  • 20 percent of respondents said that work regularly interfered with responsibilities at home and kept them from spending time with their families.
  • 54 percent of respondents said they "often to always" come home from work in a state of fatigue and almost 50 percent come into work already in a state of fatigue.
  • 40 percent of respondents said they experienced distress due to too much pressure or mental fatigue at work.
  • Almost 50 percent of respondents do not take their allotted vacation time.

"Lack of communication and lack of decision-making authority, along with effort-reward imbalances were significant problems mentioned by survey respondents," Petersen said. "The conditions of fatigue and stress noted in the study are fueled in part by the differences in how men and women manage people."

Petersen said the top five work related causes of stress and ill health identified by respondents in the study were: 1) mentally tiring work; 2) time pressure; 3) too many changes within the job; 4) not getting enough feedback; 5) not having enough influence on their job and how it is done.

"We were trying to determine how employees define a healthy workplace and discovered that the way a job is designed and how much control or influence an employee has over their job is a critical component of a perceived healthy corporate culture," Petersen concluded.

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