Work stress causes the physical and mental health of millions of human beings to deteriorate, but the rules of the competition seem to have the last word and put the correlation between cost and benefit at the forefront.
María Julia Mayoral
Evaluations by the International Labour Organisation (ILO) support the figures saying that in 2015 the number of unemployed people reached 197.1 million, and for the year in progress it foresaw a rise of approximately 2.3 million to a total of 199.4 million.
It is probable that another 1.1 million people will enter the ranks of the unemployed in 2017, according to the report “World Employment and Social Outlook – Trends 2016”, by the ILO, an agency of the United Nations.
Meanwhile, numerous workers are “having to accept low paid jobs, both in emerging and developing economies and also, increasingly, in developed countries”, said the ILO Director-General, Guy Ryder.
“The unstable economic environment associated with volatile capital flows, still dysfunctional financial markets and the shortage of global demand continue to affect enterprises and deter investment and job creation” said the Director of the ILO Research Department, Raymond Torres.
With reductions in offers of work and their possible increase in the medium term, there is more fear of remaining unemployed and less options to join the labour market; a nightmare that overwhelms an unknown number of people every day.
According to the experts, stress related to work is a global problem affecting all professions and workers both in developing and developed countries, although the impact is much greater in times of recession and crisis.
If health at work is threatened, “there is no basis for productive employment and socio-economic development. The burden of mental ill health is highly relevant to the world of work”, says the ILO.
Within the working world, stress “occurs when the demands of the job do not match or exceed the capabilities, resources, or needs of the worker, or when the knowledge or abilities of an individual worker or group to cope are not matched with the expectations of the organisational culture of an enterprise”, the institution conceptualises.
It is known that work does not only provide economic resources, but it contributes to basic psychological functions, such as structuring time, social contacts and individual identity.
However, unemployment is linked to “lower life satisfaction, social stigma, loss of self-esteem and loss of social contacts, with negative consequences for mental health”, said the entity.
Neither should it be overlooked that the current process of neoliberal globalisation modified traditional models of employment in a substantial way, increasing casual and part-time positions, and positions through independent recruitment.
These practices can cause greater demands and job insecurity, less control and a greater probability of redundancy, the ILO believes.
However, talking about a job is not the same thing: stress from work and psycho-social risks, such as job insecurity and inequality between pay and effort expended, is linked to risky behaviour for health, including high consumption of alcohol and tobacco, being overweight, less physical activity and sleeping problems, which is backed by several studies.
Every year, around six million deaths are attributed to smoking and more than three million to alcohol abuse. Also, an imbalanced diet and insufficient physical activity are the main causes of obesity and key factors in non-communicable illnesses, says the ILO.
In 2012 alone, cardiovascular diseases caused 17.5 million deaths, equivalent to 31% of the total registered in that year, the United Nations institution demonstrates.
In a general sense, the risk of suffering from cardiovascular illness is at least 50% higher in workers that suffer stress in comparison to those that are not subjected to such aggravating circumstances, advised the source.
Epidemiological investigations state that there are also increases in body pain and general musculoskeletal disorders, due to adverse psycho-social factors at work.
Equally disturbing is the rise in “burnout” syndrome in workers: a state of physical, emotional and mental exhaustion resulting from long-term involvement in emotionally demanding work situations. Among its most common manifestations include: emotional exhaustion, cynicism in the treatment of those who receive the service they are offering, depersonalisation, lack of involvement in tasks, low levels of personal accomplishment and inefficiency.
Headaches, insomnia, sleep and food issues, exhaustion, irritability, emotional instability and rigidity in social relations, are some of the non-specific symptoms associated with burnout.
According to the ILO, evaluations done in numerous countries confirm that the main cause of the syndrome is work-related stress, and women are the most affected.
Women, argues the institution, are usually more exposed to double tasks (at work and at home), the risk of sexual harassment at work, domestic violence and gender discrimination also reflected in smaller salaries.
Around 350 million people in the world suffer from depression, which can become chronic or recurrent and lead to important deficiencies in their capacity to deal with daily responsibilities in calculations presented with the endorsement of the United Nations.
From a global perspective, depression is a main cause of premature death and prolonged disability, but the risk increases up to four times in individuals with work-related stress, says the ILO.
Each year more than 800,000 people die from suicide, according to the World Health Organisation, and it is not coincidence that more than 75% of these incidents happen in low and medium income countries, the majority within economically active populations.
In 2007 a survey revealed that around 40 million inhabitants of the European Union (EU) suffered work-related stress. Two years later, a report from the European Risk Observatory attributed between 50 and 60 % of the total of work days lost within the regional block to this phenomenon.
Another inquiry in 2015 confirmed that at least 36% of EU workers work under pressure “all the time” or “almost all the time”, having to adapt themselves in the short term. Meanwhile, 33% declared that they work at high speed and 16% said they were the subject of adverse social behaviour, such as physical violence, sexual assault and bullying.
Official estimations have noted that in Europe, depression related to work has a cost of approximately 617 billion euros per year.
This calculation includes the effect on employers of absenteeism and presenteeism by workers (272 billion euros), the loss of productivity (242 billion), costs to public health (63 billion) and social security disability compensation (39 billion), said the ILO.
In Canada, a 2011 study exposed mental health problems that mean an annual cost for employers of around 20 billion Canadian dollars. In the case of the United States, an investigation undertaken in 2015 found that those interviewed classified their level of stress at 4.9 on a scale of 10 points, due fundamentally to problems with money (64%), work (60%), the economy (49%) and family responsibilities (47%).
Within Latin America, different surveys describe precarious situations; in 2012, for example, one in every 10 surveyed in Central American countries responded that they were constantly living under stress or tension (12-16%), meanwhile others said they suffered from sadness or depression (9-13%) or loss of sleep (13-19%), due to their work situation. (PL)
(Translated by Donna Davison. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org) – Photos: Pixabay