New research published in the Journal of Psychosomatic Medicine suggests that people who spend more of their working lives in jobs where they have little input in what work to do and how to go about doing it tend to die earlier than employees given more decision-making opportunities.
Some of the factors noted in the study such as monotonous work, and input into work design can be studied under the umbrella of macro-ergonomics. Techniques such as job enlargement and enrichment look at how to improve work that is monotonous or leaves little room for worker input.
Organizations such as the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) and European health and safety bodies have long recognized that in addition to causing independent problems in the workplace, work that is monotonous or in which the employee has little input may increase the risk for developing musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs).
According to researchers at the University of Texas Health Science Center in Houston, people assigned a low decision-making role in the workplace died even earlier than those in highly demanding positions. The study consisted of surveys of the physical and psychological working conditions of 5,000 households. Study participants were surveyed from 1968 to 1991.
Jobs were classified according to decision-making opportunities, psychological demands, security, support and physical demands.
The study concluded that people who spent their working lives in jobs where they had to make the fewest decisions were 43% more likely to die than people in jobs with a lot of decision-making opportunities. Also, people who spent their working lives in passive jobs, described as those with low demands and low control over what work they do and when, were also 35% more likely to die. In both cases, these findings were significant up to 10 years after the job ended.
Study authors encourage both employees and employers to look for ways to enhance the working experience citing that it often does not adversely affect productivity as some might perceive.
For more information on this study, reference the journal Psychosomatic Medicine 2002;64:370-381.