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Is your job literally making you sick?

From conflicts with managers or co-workers to a heavy workload and stringent deadlines, anyone who has ever had a job outside the home has likely experienced his or her fair share of job-related stress. In previous decades, workers were often forced to fall in line and grin and bear it or risk losing their jobs. Today, however, there is more awareness and focus about occupational stress and the related high costs for both employees and employers.

In a four-year study, Harvard researchers examined 21,000 nurses to determine what, if any, ill effects stress had on the mental and physical health of participants. In their findings researchers discovered that, much like smoking and lack of exercise, job-related stress can take a significant toll on an employee's overall health.

The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health has linked job-related stress with a host of mental and physical ailments and conditions including headaches, cardiovascular and heart disease, musculoskeletal disorders, depression and anxiety. What's more, the American Institute of Stress estimates that, on any given work day, work-related stress is linked to the absences of some one million U.S. workers.

To help combat the damaging effects of stress at work, some employers have instituted stress management and exercise programs. These types of programs focus on providing employees with the coping mechanisms and tools they need to better manage and deal with stress. However, stress-management programs do little to address the underlying and systemic problems that often contribute to a high-stress work environment.

For example, research shows that employees who have little to no control over their work are nearly twice as likely to develop heart disease as those employees who have more autonomy. Similar studies confirm that allowing employees more control and flexibility with regard to how and when they work can go a long way towards reducing employee stress levels.

For many California agricultural, construction and manufacturing workers; there are no stress management or flexible work programs. For these workers, occupational injuries and illnesses are common and can lead to serious and debilitating injuries and medical conditions.

Source: Healthday.com, "Don't Let Job Stress Make You Sick," Chris Wooden, March, 11, 2015

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