Workplace Stress and Your Health

A new book claims that work can be bad for your health. It’s not news that workplaces can have health and safety issues, but Dying for a Paycheck by Jeffrey Pfeffer of Stanford University isn’t focusing on workplace accidents, sick building syndrome, or even toxic chemicals.

Instead, Pfeffer brings out three big ways that even today’s safer workplaces still endanger our health.


Workplaces today are stressful. The American Psychological Association has been tracking workplace stress for years. Their most recent survey found that work is a top source of stress for 61% of Americans. Workplace stress is bad for your mind and body.

It may seem as though work is, or at least should be, less stressful now than it used to be. Most of us are not coal miners nowadays, and we usually have air conditioning and eight-hour workdays. Why should we be stressed?

The World Health Organization lists a lot of workplace stressors. Heavy workloads, tasks that are too challenging or not challenging enough, a feeling of having little control, or a lack of support from coworkers and supervisors all create stress.

The American Institute of Stress identifies an excessive workload as the top source of stress at work, followed by people issues.

Unhealthy behaviors

Stress is part of the equation when it comes to unhealthy behaviors. Pfeffer found that bad choices like overeating, excessive drinking, and smoking were connected with workplace stress. Statista agrees; they reported that 63% of Americans admitted that their work-related stress led to unhealthy behaviors.

“The World Economic Forum estimates that three-quarters of all health-care spend is for chronic disease,” Pfefer points out. “Chronic disease comes from stress and the unhealthy behaviors stress induces. Surveys consistently show that the workplace is one of the top two or three sources of stress.”

At the same time, workplace culture can also encourage unhealthy behaviors. Doughnuts and cake in the break room, Happy Hour winding down after work, and even limited opportunities to get out of a chair and move can all lead to unhealthy habits.

Combine workplace stress with unhealthy workplace culture, and it can be very hard for workers to make good choices.

Healthcare access

Pfeffer saw one other strong work-related health issue, particularly in the United States.

“In the US,” he told The Economist in an interview, “employment status and your employer determine your access to health-care—if you will have health insurance, how much you will pay, and who will care for you.”

It makes sense to ask about healthcare benefits before accepting a job.


Pfeffer wants to see major changes in society that will create less stressful, healthier work environments.

In the meantime, how we cope with stress can make a big difference. Regular exercise, intentional relaxation techniques like meditation, and spending time with friends and family can all reduce stress. Alcohol, comfort food, and smoking may provide temporary relief, but they make us feel worse in the long run.

If stress is having negative effects on your life, talk with your doctor about making some changes in your lifestyle.