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Study: Working conditions play crucial role in workers' health

A new study says the terms and conditions of a person's employment and how they are treated are just as vital to their overall health as workplace hazards that can cause injuries. The University of Washington study concludes that not only the type of work we do but how it is done is crucial to our well-being.

The survey looked at 6,000 adults from 2002 to 2014 to measure how mental health, self-reported health issues and occupational injuries contribute to a worker's employment quality. The study notes how the nature of employment is changing due to technology and other forces.

Key findings

The study observes how complex our work relationships can be and how they determine what we are paid, whether we have control over our schedules, opportunities for growth and protection against harassment or other adverse working conditions. The study looked at the health-related effects for several classes of workers, including:

  • "Dead-end" jobs: People doing repetitive tasks, such as in manufacturing, and those who struggle to get full-time hours, like retail workers, are more likely to report poor general and mental health and are more susceptible to being injured. Researchers said even higher-paid union workers are in this category.
  • Inflexible skilled workers: Highly-skilled workers who are required to put in longer hours, like doctors and military personnel, as well as "gig" or self-employed workers, have worse mental health conditions and increased injury risks compared to those with regular jobs.
  • Empowered workers: The study noted one surprising finding that people who have more control over their hours and working conditions despite having less secure jobs and lower pay are just as healthy as people with regular jobs.

Potential policy implications for the future

The study's authors say policymakers must continue a dialogue with employers to promote solutions that improve workers' lives, including ordinances over work hours, minimum wage levels and rules over family leave. Researchers say increased worker security will lessen turnover and increase productivity as well as the employer's bottom line.

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