November 09, 2018

The Roundup: Effect of work on health, fewer holiday parties in 2018, and too much focus is a thing

In this week's Roundup, the hazards of work, and survey results show companies are having fewer holiday parties this year. Plus, too much focus could be a bad thing, and a midterm election results.

Danielle Ng-See-Quan

Dani is the Managing Editor, Content Marketing at Ceridian.

The workplace is a leading cause of death

The modern workplace is a health hazard, Quartz writes.

The publication recently shared findings from a paper, published in the Management Science journal, which documents the relationship between workplace stress and mortality in the U.S. The researchers built a model to estimate the excess mortality and health expenditures associated with exposure to 10 workplace stressors, such as long working hours, high job demands, and low social support at work.Some startling points from the paper:

  • The workplace in aggregate is the fifth leading cause of death in the U.S., and approximately 5%–8% of annual healthcare costs are associated with and may be attributable to how U.S. companies manage their workforces
  • Work is a leading cause of stress
  • The effect of workplace practices – like long hours, economic insecurity, and lack of work-life balance – are as harmful to health as second-hand smoke, according to this meta-analysis

The Quartz piece provides some recommendations for employees in stressful work environments to take action – and these are worth noting from an employer perspective as well. They include collective action, and not accepting toxic workplaces as the norm.

On the latter point, Quartz puts the spotlight on areas in which employers must take a close, hard look at their current practices:

“….People should no longer accept practices that prevent a healthy balance of work and family commitments. With decades of research demonstrating the positive effects of job autonomy on motivation and commitment, people should no longer be subjected to excessive job control and heavy-handed micromanaging. “

Fewer companies are having holiday parties in 2018

A survey from global outplacement firm Challenger, Gray, and Christmas finds that 65% of companies plan to have a holiday party – the lowest number since 2009.

The annual survey polled 150 HR reps across the U.S., and also found that the lower number of holiday parties doesn’t seem to be due to economic reasons – companies reported having higher confidence in the economy than last year.

The firm also suggested reasons companies are having fewer parties, including companies having mostly remote workforces so it’s difficult to gather for a celebration, companies having parties at other times of the year, and potential liability following the #MeToo movement.

The firm’s VP, Andrew Challenger, said that nearly 60% of companies that are having parties “have real concerns about inappropriate behavior,” adding that the impact of the movement is positive, in that “the movement is spurring companies to enact important policies to protect workers – a huge boon to the business community.”

Challenger also points out that if companies aren’t having holiday parties this year, they should have other ways to “recognize their people, [which is] crucial to building morale and a positive culture.”

Being too focused at work is actually a thing

Too much focus at work can hurt us, according to Dr. Srini Pillay in Fast Company. Pillay, author of Tinker, Dabble, Doodle, Try, shares how focusing too hard can damage productivity. These include draining energy, preventing you from noticing other things, and hindering creative thinking.

He suggests some ways to “activate the unfocused brain” and put its benefits into practice:

  • Daydream: Pillay says “constructive daydreaming” – a form of letting your mind wander to a positive place – can help you feel more productive and creative, especially if you do it when you’re engaged in a low-key activity.
  • Get distracted: This isn’t a blanket statement. There are both negative (scrolling through social media feeds) and positive (doodling) distractions – and the positive ones help your memory.
  • Be aware of unconscious distractions: There’s also the “stuff” that’s regularly weighing on your mind, whether you’re conscious of it or not – Fast Company’s examples are health concerns or worrying about your mortgage payments. Pillay says to be aware of these distractions and set aside time to consciously think about them and come up with solutions, so that you’re not thinking about them at other moments
  • Related: Juliet Funt on what’s killing our productivity at work

Also – employer efforts to boost voting might be working

Two weeks ago, we wrote about how employers are taking on more responsibility for boosting voter turnout – and it might be working.

The 2018 midterm election set a record – it was the first to exceed a voter turnout of 100 million people, according to Fortune. Specifically, 113 million voters cast their ballots. Certainly, the record midterm voter turnout was bolstered by several factors, including the celebs, apps, organizations, associations, and brands motivating the masses to make their voices heard by voting (see this handy summary from Wired on some of the best and worst efforts). But the key takeaway this year is that employers are being more active in encouraging their workers to participate.

According to research from SHRM (cited by CNBC), 44% of U.S. employers offer their workers paid time off to vote (in 2017, that number was 42%), and 29% offered unpaid time off to vote (down from 33% in 2017). The matter is complex due to requirements of different state laws around offering time off to vote. As noted in the previous Roundup, this has led employers to get creative with their policies in order to help drive employees to the polls.

Read more from AdWeek, the New York Times, and Time about how employers encouraged their workers to vote this year.

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