Canadians are discovering what their southern neighbors have long known—workplace stress is not good for your health, a new study shows. It's also not so great for the economy.
A new study by Concordia University economists in Montreal found that increased job stress causes workers to increasingly seek help from health professionals for physical, mental and emotional ailments linked to job stress.
The number of visits to health care professionals has risen 26 percent among employees working in high-stress jobs.
"These results show that people in medium- to high-stress jobs visit family doctors and specialists more often than workers with low job stress," said study author Sunday Azagba, a Ph.D. candidate in the Concordia Department of Economics.
To reach their conclusions, the economists crunched nationally representative data from the Canadian National Population Health Survey (NPHS). All NPHS figures were restricted to adults ages 18 to 65 years — the bulk of the labor force — and included statistics on the number of health care visits, chronic illnesses, marital status, income level, smoking and drinking habits.
"We believe an increasing number of workers are using medical services to cope with job stress," said co-author Mesbah Sharaf, also a Ph.D. candidate in the economics department.
"There is medical evidence that stress can adversely affect an individual's immune system, thereby increasing the risk of disease," Sharaf continued. "Numerous studies have linked stress to back pain, colorectal cancer, infectious disease, heart problems, headaches and diabetes. Job stress may also heighten risky behaviors such as smoking, drug and alcohol abuse, discourage healthy behaviors such as physical activity, proper diet and increase consumption of fatty and sweet foods."
Stress and the associated health care costs also affect the health of the Canadian economy.
"Health care spending in Canada, as a percent of gross domestic product, increased from 7 percent in 1980 to 10.1 percent," said Azagba.
Canada hopes to stem stress-induced health care costs from rising before they become as stressful on their economy as they are in the U.S., where 70 percent of workers consider their workplace a significant source of stress.
"It is estimated that health care utilization induced by stress costs U.S. companies $68 billion annually and reduces their profits by 10 percent," said Sharaf.
Total health care expenditures in the U.S. amount to $2.5 trillion, or $8,047 per person.
"That represents 17.3 percent of the 2009 gross domestic product — a 9 percent increase from 1980," said Azagba.