The Surgeon General says stressful workplaces are bad for your health

The Surgeon General says stressful workplaces are bad for your health


If you think that your workplace is toxic and harmful to your physical and mental health, you are not alone.

US Surgeon General Vivek H. Murthy warned Thursday that abusive or poor workplaces may be harmful to human health. He has developed a roadmap detailing how employers can change workplace culture and practices in order to better protect people’s mental and physical health.

“The link between our work and our health is becoming more and more clear,” Murthy said. “More and more workers are anxious about managing their affairs, dealing with chronic stress, and struggling to balance the demands of work and personal life.”

It’s not just about mental health: Chronic stress can increase people’s risks of physical illnesses including heart disease, cancer and diabetes. When workers’ health deteriorates, Murthy said in the report’s introduction, it can affect workplace productivity and creativity.

Surgeon General’s Office – Quoted from big resignationAnd the “calm take off” And the You mentioned depression or anxiety Among American workers – he said the recommendations are aimed at seizing the opportunity of the pandemic era to reconsider how we work. Murthy said the “calculation” created by the pandemic should prompt employers to turn workplaces into “engines of wellbeing”.

Here’s what you need to know about detecting toxicity and protecting your mental and physical health, and what employers should do.

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How to recognize a toxic workplace

Five traits that can predict whether people think their workplace is toxic, as directed by the Surgeon General: Culture is disrespectful, inclusive, immoral, cruel or abusive.

If you think your workplace is toxic, you’re usually right, said psychologist Amy Sullivan, director of engagement and well-being at the Cleveland Clinic Neurological Institute. “We know, as people who work in that environment, whether the environment doesn’t feel safe or mentally healthy,” she said. “It’s a really gut feeling.”

People can usually confirm that they feel you know when you see it with your co-workers, too, said Dennis Stoll, senior director of the American Psychological Association’s Office of Application, because large groups are likely to complain. psychology. Stolle worked on APA research that is cited in the Surgeon General’s Guidelines.

There are also physical red flags. Insomnia, anxiety, dry mouth, increased blood pressure, and fatigue can be among the signs that something is off. Indications that the nervous system’s fight-or-flight response has been activated — pits in the stomach, butterflies in the stomach, a racing heart — are important to note, Sullivan said.

People sometimes feel symptoms most often outside of work, when they go home. “They can’t relax, they can’t let go of thoughts of work, they can’t sleep or they’re afraid to get up and go to work the next day,” Stolle said.

But is it a bad workplace or just stress around the world? Stolle recommends thinking about when you feel your best and when you feel your worst. He said if work is taking over your “worst” column, it’s at least part of the problem.

The Surgeon General said many workers suffer from chronic stress regardless of whether the workplace truly qualifies as toxic, thanks to “heavy workloads, long commutes, unexpected schedules, limited independence, long working hours, multiple jobs, and pay.” low” and many other challenges. .

Sullivan said that people with negative work environments should realize they “are not who they are.” And the more you can separate your emotions from your work — meaning that your health and well-being are not “emotionally tied” to your work — the better.

If you feel stressed at work, experts recommend trying some common and tested strategies, including walking or leaving the workplace briefly; taking a break for something you enjoy, such as a cup of coffee or tea; And talking to a trusted co-worker who may have similar issues. You can also practice mindful breathing and make changes in your lifestyle, such as your diet or exercise. The experts said: Try different things until you find the self-care practices that work for you.

Stolle asks employees to take three steps: take care of themselves, take care of their co-workers and communicate with their superiors. Asking your co-workers how they are doing and talking about stressors helps create a culture in which people care about each other. He said telling employers what really works and what you need can start a productive dialogue.

Experts have said that these strategies can improve your well-being both in your workplace and outside of it, but the responsibility for reforming the work culture lies with the employer, not with the employees. Quick fixes, such as stress management programs or yoga at work, won’t solve a nationwide problem.

“Health programs often feel like we are blaming the worker — when the workplace and the way work is organized today is actually the source of the problem,” said Erin L. Kelly, a professor at MIT. Sloan School of Management, which studies work and employment. “We want to look at how to change the workplace, not just focus on changing the worker by encouraging exercise or meditation.”

What should employers do?

The Surgeon General recommends five workplace “essentials” to ensure employees’ mental health and well-being: protection from harm, communication and community, work-life harmony, mission at work, and opportunity for growth.

The goals align with some of the top reasons American workers leave their jobs: Pew Research Center Survey Of people who quit in 2021 found that they reported low salaries, no opportunity for advancement, and feeling disrespected at work as the top three issues, cited by more than half of those who quit.

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The Surgeon General’s directive sets out a framework for organizations to achieve these five “essentials”.

Among the recommendations for employers is to increase access to paid time off and pay a “living wage” to workers, which the guidelines did not specify, though it noted that nearly a third of American workers earn less than $15 an hour. They must also provide training and mentoring, promote inclusion and equity, and give workers more autonomy over “how, when and where work is done.”

Stolle said employers should view such changes as an ongoing cultural shift, not individual steps that can be checked and forgotten.

‘We need employers to use [their] Authority and action,” he said. “If we don’t have that, change won’t come.”

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