WASHINGTON – When Mom and Dad stress about work,little Johnny and Susie also feel the pressure,according to new research about work,health and family life.
The study found that stressed parents spend less time with their children and know less about their children's lives.
The data,compiled by researchers at several universities,also show that employers' openness to flexible work schedules greatly affects their employees' health,including cardiovascular risk and sleep duration.
“Small changes can make a huge impact on lives in the workplace,” said Ellen Kossek,a professor at Michigan State University's School of Labor & Industrial Relations. “Just simple training for managers can make a big difference.”
The researchers,along with health care organization Kaiser Permanente,make up the Work,Family & Health Network,a $30 million initiative now in the second phase of a study projected to end in 2012. The research is funded by the National Institutes of Health and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
The findings were revealed Tuesday at a congressional briefing.
Sen. Tom Harkin,D-Iowa,and Rep. Earl Blumenauer,D-Ore.,have sponsored bills to give tax credits to businesses that adopt health and wellness programs.
The researchers haven't endorsed any legislation.
Mary Durham,vice president of research at Kaiser Permanente and director of the Center for Health Research,said the network could be ready to suggest policy changes after the study's second phase has been completed.
She said the study is the first rigorous attempt to provide evidence of how changing a work environment changes health. Work-related stress costs the government $300 billion a year,including health costs and missed work,she said.
The work,family and health project,which began in 2005,studies different aspects of health and the workplace.
Researchers peered into work and personal lives of employees in nursing homes,grocery stores,hotels and at Best Buy.
Researchers found higher health risks associated with employees who worked under rigid hourly shifts.
Lisa Berkman,a professor of social epidemiology at Harvard's Center for Population and Development Studies,studied low-wage employees at nursing homes,where work shifts are among the least flexible.
Berkman's results show that employees with less flexible bosses sleep an average of 30 minutes less each night and are twice as likely to be at risk of cardiovascular disease.
“For those of you who have had bad bosses,you know the stress spills over into health care costs,” she said.
Susan McHale,part of a team of researchers from Pennsylvania State University's Social Science Research Institute,performed the study concerning children's reaction to parents' work stress.
The team looked specifically at employees in the hotel industry,where employees work more during holidays and traditional vacation times.
Her team found that children's cortisol levels,an indicator of stress,increased throughout the day when their parents were stressed. Cortisol levels should decrease during the day,McHale said.
Children also reported spending an hour less with their parents on days when stressors,such as an argument with a boss or co-worker,affected their parents' work days. During stressful work days,mothers also reported knowing less about their children's days,McHale said.
Kossek's research found that turnover at grocery stores decreased when managers were trained to be more personable and interested in their employees' lives.
Erin Kelly,a researcher at the University of Minnesota,studied a culture shift at Best Buy headquarters in Richfield,Minn. Managers were urged to focus on the quality of work rather than the amount of time workers spent in the office. Employees were encouraged to telecommute. Negative language,such as,”Haven't seen you in the office in a while,” was discouraged.
Kelly said employees' greater sense of work-time control led to fewer family conflicts. Workers slept more and had more energy.
Although employers could institute more flexible schedules,Berkman said,major culture shifts often don't occur until federal- or state-level structural changes take hold. She cited smoking bans as an example.
“Right now,everyone is focused on health care and not improving health,” she said. “I think these policies will become front and center once we begin to focus on health.”