New Study Links Workplace Gender Issues to Stress, Health Risks, and Rising Health Care Costs
June 2004 (Newstream) -- One in three Americans may be making themselves sick just by going to work each day. Results from a new landmark study show 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 also shows that females are at a higher health risk from workplace stress than males.
Elizabeth Browning, CEO of LLuminari, the national health education firm that commissioned the study, said that its findings are significant because they link gender-based medicine with a healthy workplace.
"All companies are looking for solutions to reduce healthcare costs," Browning said. "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."
Top Three Gender Based Values at Work
"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.
Dr. 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."
"Organizations that seek to understand their own workplace cultures and recognize that women and men are fundamentally different in ways that impact their health, will have a distinct advantage," Browning said. "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. 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."
The study, titled Creating Healthy Corporate Cultures for Both Genders, (www.lluminari.com) was conducted for LLuminari by a leading expert in the American workplace, P. Michael Peterson, Ed.D, a professor of health promotion at the University of Delaware. More than 1,100 men and women from companies with 1,000+ employees participated in the on-line survey conducted by Harris Interactive. LLuminari is using the national study as a benchmark to work with leading companies to create healthier cultures.
"It's important that managers understand what men value as opposed to what women value in a healthy workplace environment," Dr. Peterson said. "Knowing and managing the differences helps to not only effectively motivate employees and generate consistent, quality results, but also to foster loyalty and overall physical and emotional health."
Unmanaged Gender Differences Create Health Risks
LLuminari expert, 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.
"The incidence of cardiovascular disease almost doubles, as does the use of potentially addictive substances like alcohol, tranquilizers and mood elevators, if an employee is uncomfortable or not really at ease in a workplace and if he or she feels stressed in a workplace," Dr. Legato said.
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," Dr. Petersen said. "In addition, the study indicated that women reported nearly 40 percent more health problems than their male counterparts and noticeably higher stress."
Additional Study Results
- 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," Dr. 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."
Dr. 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."
Men and women value similar things at work but in a very different order of priority.
- Women understand what men value much better than men understand what women value.
- Workplaces may not be equally healthy for men and women.
- Employees do not believe that corporate leaders understand the relationship between their own health and an organization's health.
- Corporations can better assess the impact of work and work culture on employee health outcomes or a culture's influence on health care costs by examining gender differences.
Dr. Legato said this study uncovered some key health findings that should be of concern to employers and companies who value their workers and who are concerned about the ever-increasing costs associated with health care.
"Prevention is a more cost effective way of dealing with illness than treating the complications of the illness," Dr. Legato said. "It's an interesting idea to try and reduce stress in the workplace -- especially along gender lines -- as a way of improving employee health and helping to contain healthcare costs. There's no question that the price we pay for a chronically unpleasant experience at work is a rising bill for the illnesses that result."
Dr. Peterson said the trends uncovered in the study contribute to corporations facing higher health care costs for their workers, increased absenteeism and higher workman's compensation claim costs. He said employers need to understand that profits gained at the expense of worker health -- and the influence the corporate culture plays in the overall picture -- will cost them in the long run.
Organizations Must Understand Their Own Gender-Based Cultural Drivers
LLuminari CEO Elizabeth Browning said that information contained in the new study is especially valuable to organizations interested in setting the tone for a healthy workplace environment for male and female employees, given their different views of what's important.
"Managing the workforce of today requires an application of organizational self-knowledge to maximize both the health and productivity of workers," Browning said. "The first step for a corporation is to conduct a thorough assessment of the culture in which their employees operate. Organizations need to understand how men and women respond to that culture. Is it a predominantly male-oriented culture or is it female friendly? Is it an environment where people think presence equals commitment? Are employees comfortable taking their vacation time? If employers allow workers to get up and leave the building to smoke, would they be as comfortable allowing workers to get up and leave the building to take a walk?"
Browning noted being female-friendly is more than maternity leave or flex time. She said that an organization that schedules meetings at seven in the morning or at six at night makes it difficult for both female and male employees who want to be successful at work but also are responsible for families.
"Every organization wants to be successful and depends upon its employees to make it happen," Browning said. "But success should be viewed over the long term. A healthy organization can go the distance. If we value our people, the best metric of success should be the health of the employees."
LLuminari, based in Wilmington, Delaware, is a health education company comprised of nationally known physicians and health experts committed to women's health both in the workplace and with families. Named to evoke the idea of illumination, LLuminari physicians and health experts translate complex medical information and issues into powerful and comprehensive formats and points-of-view that people understand and can act upon to improve personal and family health.
More information about LLuminari and also about the landmark study -- Creating Healthy Corporate Cultures for Both Genders -- is available at www.lluminari.com
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