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Not Really Paranoid, but Just in Case...
By John Millrany - April 25, 2001

Did you ever feel like you were a thatched hut in the path of a new volcano? You’re not really paranoid, you say—but maybe you’ll keep an "extra eye" open?

Psychologists know you. You’re not a bowl of Jello, a gutless wonder or a trembling aspen…but all the same, you can’t help but think—what if I get fired from my job!

Sorry, but fallout from new studies prompted this headline from the American Psychological Association’s website: WORKPLACE STRESS AND FEAR OF LAY-OFFS CAN LEAD TO INCREASED RATES OF WORKER ILLNESS AND INJURY.

In two studies published in April’s Journal of Occupational Health Psychology, researchers propounded that the threat of lay-offs can put workers at risk for workplace injuries and accidents, based on scoping out 237 food-processing plant employees who feared they might be laid off. This sampling showed those reacting to such fears displayed decreased safety motivation and compliance—which are related to higher levels of workplace injuries and accidents.

The lead author, Tahira M. Probst, PhD and Ty L. Brubaker, BS of Washington State University Vancouver surveyed workers at two plants of a large US food processing company which had recently undergone major organizational changes affecting job security. In the first plant, an entire shift of workers was laid off in preparation for what was rumored to be the eventual shut down of the entire plant. At the other plant, the swing shift was being eliminated in favor of a night shift.

Those employees who could not work the night shift, such as single-parent employees with no day-care alternatives, were expected to lose their jobs. Employees at both plants were asked to take part in the study at two time periods, immediately after the shift changes were announced, and six months following the organizational restructuring.

The researchers found that those who were worried about losing their jobs showed less safety motivation and compliance on the job, factors which were related to higher levels of workplace injuries and accidents. For the plant workers, that meant an increase in wrist, hand and arm injuries, the most common type of injury associated with food processing plants.

It is possible, the authors explained, that employees who have to juggle competing job demands of production, quality and safety may feel pressured to cut safety corners to keep their production numbers up, especially if they fear losing their job and are not actively rewarded for safe behavior.

"These results suggest that organizations not only need to consider the effects that employee job insecurity has on the job satisfaction, health and turnover intentions of employees, but also need to consider the possibility that job insecurity can have potentially dangerous implications for employee safety attitudes and behaviors," the authors stated.

In the second study, 2,048 workers from across the country were questioned about the impact of their job on their physical and mental health. Researchers Susan L. Ettner, Ph.D. of UCLA and Joseph G. Grzywacz, Ph.D. of the University of Northern Iowa found that serious on-going work stress and job pressure or working long hours and more shift work resulted in more negative-reported-effects of work on physical and mental health.

Specifically, those who worked nights or more than 45 hours per week (compared with 35-45 hours per week) were more likely to report that their job undermines their health. Individual "personality characteristics" also were related to workers’ perceptions of how their jobs affect their health.

Those workers with higher levels of neuroticism (defined by APA as "emotionally unstable traits such as anxiousness, nervousness and sadness") and a lower level of extraversion were more likely to believe their job had a negative affect on their health.

According to the authors, policies related to job design may be undermining the health and well being of their workers. "When a company is faced with decisions to meet production demands in the workplace, running ‘lean and mean’ could have unseen costs that might be avoided by allowing workers to avoid working chronic overtime and hiring additional temporary help."

Hmm…"running lean and mean…" I guess if there’s an erupting volcano going down, maybe I should heed APA’s admonitions. Do you think?

(Readers are invited to post comments on the above at adjustercom.com’s Forum page.)

 
 

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