The world of work in which we live seems to be guided by a fundamental principle, that of maximizing productivity with minimum effort and investment.
One of the consequences of this type of mentality is the creation of toxic work environments, in which everyone, from employees to managers, is constantly subjected to high levels of stress and discontent.
Stressful rhythms, deadlines impossible to meet, too many overtime, are just some of the factors that contribute to making work dangerous. Depression, suicides, heart attacks, the list is long.
Studies showing the effect of stress on people abound, and we know what the consequences may be for those who undergo long, similar periods. Not to mention the enormous impact it has on the society in which we live, as well as on the companies themselves.
But it doesn’t have to be this way. It is possible to imagine a world in which work does not have to be the cause of stress and disease, but to reach a similar situation it is necessary to act collectively, so that work is no longer something for which you risk dying.
Ways on how work negatively affects our health
There are ten main factors that contribute to what we call “work stress”:
1. Unemployment – the very lack of a job, of economic security, is one of the major sources of despair and depression.
2. Lack of medical coverage – especially in states where healthcare is private, many workers get coverage through their employer.
3. Shift work – the irregularity of work activity leads to a greater difficulty in reconciling work and private life.
4. Overtime – working more than 40 hours a week can lead to greater fatigue, and therefore raise our stress levels.
5. Job insecurity – for example, working for a company that recently downsized its workforce by laying off other employees. This can make us feel uncertain about the security of our place.
6. Work-family conflicts – when work commitments do not allow us to fully enjoy our family life, malaise increases.
7 . Poor freedom – this includes little autonomy in organizing your activities, and little control over your work environment.
8 . Too stringent work needs – the pressure to increase productivity leads to an increase in stress levels.
9. A low level of social interaction – when we cannot socialize with colleagues, the sense of alienation and disconnection increases.
10. Working in an environment where injustices are perceived – undeserved promotions or favorable treatments make the perception of the workplace extremely negative.
Layoffs have several side effects
One strategy many companies use to deal with moments of crisis is the reduction of staff through layoffs. Obviously the immediate impact is on people who lose their jobs and with it economic stability.
But the negative effects of this practice don’t stop there. The climate of uncertainty that is created in the company also has profound repercussions on the morale of the people who continue to work on it. As a result, morale is lowered, which can directly lead to a decrease in productivity.
Layoffs can also lead to unexpected expenses for a company. Suffice it to count liquidations and coupons, which in the case of mass layoffs can reach important figures. There is also a risk of incurring class attorney fees and court cases brought by ex-employees.
All this not to mention that, in the vast majority of cases, the crisis is not caused by too high an expenditure on the workforce, but by too high expenses in other areas. Layoffs are simply a palliative that offers a quick but temporary solution, because they don’t go to solve the problem at source.
A parenthesis on (health insurance)
In some states, the healthcare system is private, as in the USA. This means that without an insurance policy that covers medical costs, you literally risk not being able to access treatment.
In these markets, the most widespread trend is that for which employees receive their coverage (as well as that for their family members) from their employer. This means not only that the health of a worker is in the hands of his employer, but that this represents a real cost linked to personnel.
In this regard, in fact, in recent years there has been a drastic drop in the coverage offered by companies, which offer less and less comprehensive insurance to employees.
Several studies, however, highlight how this is a double-edged sword: in fact, in the face of lower direct expenditure, the companies that adopt this practice record strong drops in the involvement of their employees, with a consequent reduction in productivity, and therefore also of revenue.
The little extras that are not enough to counteract discontent
Many companies have undertaken a very common practice in Silicon Valley: that of offering small “goodies” that should, in theory, make the workplace more welcoming and less stressful. So we find, especially in large companies, a series of ancillary services such as gyms, quality cafes, gourmet restaurants, game rooms and so on.
Of course, working in a less severe environment can certainly help make the day less stressful, giving us moments of leisure in which to socialize with colleagues and release some accumulated tension.
The problem is that often these ancillary benefits are used almost to justify unusual job requests, such as overtime, exhausting working hours, and other types of employee sacrifices.
Several studies show that one of the factors that most affects our work experience concerns our sense of independence and autonomy, that is, how free we are to organize work and time to pursue our goals.
Why can’t we continue like this
These problems that we have identified do not show signs of diminishing, but of increasing. Companies find themselves operating in increasingly competitive markets, in increasingly precarious and weak economic / financial situations.
On the other hand, the demands from investors and shareholders are getting stronger. For this reason, companies are increasingly faced with methods whose primary objective is to increase earnings even in the face of difficult situations.
In practical terms, this often translates into an increase in the workload for employees at all levels, with cascading consequences that inevitably end up raising levels of stress and malaise.
How to change things
A change of this magnitude requires a great deal of effort, and it is therefore important to understand what the steps are to follow.
1. We must start measuring the health, both physical and mental, of employees. These measurements must be equated in importance to other types of consequences of the company’s operations, such as emissions and pollution.
2. We must start identifying and publicly labeling those companies that adopt and encourage such behavior, so that we can use social pressure to push them to change.
3. Governments and authorities must take action to implement rules and regulations governing these aspects of working life, encouraging and promoting the adoption of strategies aimed at reducing employee malaise, and sanctioning those who continue to create toxic work environments.
4. Anticipate the excuses and justifications that will be presented by those who refuse to change their attitude towards their employees. It is not a problem that only affects a company or sector. It is a widespread phenomenon, and must be fought on all fronts.
5. Finally, it is necessary to train a new ruling class, which stops putting earnings first, at the expense of people’s health. As long as leaders are rewarded based only on company earnings, workplace toxicity will remain a widespread problem.