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Layoffs, Work Stress Linked to Injury and Illness

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A second study asked a national sample of more than 2,000 workers what they thought their job was doing to -- or for -- their physical and mental health. People who said their jobs made their health worse were much more likely to have jobs they described as highly stressful or high-pressure.

One interesting finding was that people with the lowest-paying jobs were significantly more likely to say that their job was good for their health than were people with higher-paying jobs.

"We really puzzled over that," lead author Susan L. Ettner, PhD, tells WebMD. "It's almost like people with higher-paying jobs have a sense of entitlement -- people who expect more are disappointed when they don't get it. People at the low end of the wage scale are just happy to be employed; whereas people in higher-end jobs not only expect more pay but expect their work to be stimulating and have a whole layer of higher expectations. If the higher-wage earners are expecting more, they are more critical of the impact of their jobs."

Ettner, a health economist at the University of California, Los Angeles, schools of medicine and public health, said the study pointed to ways that employers can make jobs healthier. A clue came from the finding that self-employed workers found their jobs more healthful. Another clue came from people who said that their jobs required them to learn and use a wide range of skills -- and that they believed this work to be good for them.

"Because we did find a really strong effect of self-employment, things associated with it are worth looking into," Ettner says. "A couple of things are useful to know: One is the positive effect of job skills. Workers don't want to go to work and shut their brains off; they want to learn new things and get more training. And my guess is that the number of hours worked is a big part of the self-employment effect. It does seem that at least giving people more opportunity to pick the number of hours they feel is good for them may have an effect."

Ettner says that company health is linked to worker health.

"Employers are increasingly recognizing that their workers' health is the company's problem, because it ends up coming out of their bottom line," she says. "Employers that are really progressive will try to figure out what will enhance health among employees. We are hoping this study will give some pointers."

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