Is your job killing you? Here is why it may lead to depression, death

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As millions continue working from home during the pandemic or are required to report to jobs as essential employees, many have raised questions about how these work conditions impact our health—and not just as they relate to COVID-19.

In a new study, researchers found that our mental health and mortality have a strong correlation with the amount of autonomy we have at our job, our workload and job demands, and our cognitive ability to deal with those demands.

When job demands are greater than the control afforded by the job or an individual’s ability to deal with those demands, there is a deterioration of mental health and, accordingly, an increased likelihood of death.

The research was conducted by a team from the Indiana University Kelley School of Business.

The team examined how job control—or the number of autonomy employees have at work—and cognitive ability—or people’s ability to learn and solve problems—influence how to work stressors such as time pressure or workload affect mental and physical health and, ultimately, death.

They found that work stressors are more likely to cause depression and death as a result of jobs in which workers have little control or for people with lower cognitive ability.

On the other hand, the team found that job demands resulted in better physical health and a lower likelihood of death when paired with more control of work responsibilities.

They believe that this is because of job control and cognitive ability act as resources that help people cope with work stressors.

Job control allows people to set their own schedules and prioritize work in a way that helps them achieve their work goals, while people that are smarter are better able to adapt to the demands of a stressful job and figure out ways to deal with stress.

The researchers used data from 3,148 Wisconsin residents who participated in the nationally representative, longitudinal Midlife in the United States survey. Of those in their sample, 211 participants died during the 20-year study.

The lead author of the study is Erik Gonzalez-Mulé, an assistant professor of organizational behavior and human resources at the Kelley School.

The study is published in the Journal of Applied Psychology.

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