Micro-managing is a good way to send your staff to early graves

Luli the Valkyrie of the DC Lady Arm Wrestlers in the Washington area. Nicholas Kamm/AFP/Getty Images

Work stress can cut your life short, according to the latest research.

The burden tends to push people towards an unhealthy lifestyle, eating poorly and exercising less.

But science has found a clear way to make work life more enjoyable and productive.

The research shows that the impact of stress on health depends on the level of control you have over your own work at the office.

So those who like to micromanage might get the results they want but their style causes a lot of stress and subsequent health problems in their direct reports.

And inspirational office leaders, the ones with clear visions who spur their staff on and on to bigger and bigger goals, also create enough stress to make some sick, according to earlier research.

But the stress disappears if you give staff greater flexibility to set their own goals, the latest research shows. They work no less harder. They just end the day happier.

Those in high stress jobs with little control over their workflow are less healthy and tend to die younger, according to research from the Indiana University Kelley School of Business. They are 15.4% more likely to die young.

But give those people more control and there’s a 34% fall in the likelihood of death, even compared to people in less demanding jobs.

“We explored job demands, or the amount of work, time pressure and concentration demands of a job, and job control, or the amount of discretion one has over making decisions at work, as joint predictors of death,” says Erik Gonzalez-Mulé, assistant professor of organisational behavior.

“These findings suggest that stressful jobs have clear negative consequences for employee health when paired with low freedom in decision-making, while stressful jobs can actually be beneficial to employee health if also paired with freedom in decision-making.”

The researchers believe their study is the first to examine the relationship between job characteristics and mortality.

The results don’t suggest employers need to cut back on what is expected from employees. Rather, they demonstrate the value in giving workers with more say about how the work they need to do gets done.

“You can avoid the negative health consequences if you allow them to set their own goals, set their own schedules, prioritise their decision-making and the like,” says Gonzalez-Mulé.

Employees should be given a voice in goal-setting, making it a two-way conversation.

“When you don’t have the necessary resources to deal with a demanding job, you do this other stuff,” says Gonzalez-Mulé. “You might eat more, you might smoke, you might engage in some of these things to cope with it.”

About a quarter (26%) of deaths were in people in frontline service jobs. A third (32%) were those with manufacturing jobs who also reported high job demands and low control.

“What we found is that those people that are in entry-level service jobs and construction jobs have pretty high death rates, more so than people in professional jobs and office positions,” he says. “Interestingly, we found a really low rate of death among agricultural workers.”

Gonzalez-Mulé said the new study highlights the benefits of job crafting, a process that enables employees to mold and redesign their job to make it more meaningful.

Other research suggests that workers who engage in job crafting are happier and are more productive than co-workers who don’t.

The research, Worked to Death: The Relationships of Job Demands and Job Control With Mortality, is published in the journal Personnel Psychology.

The study used data from the Wisconsin Longitudinal Study which followed more than 10,000 people who graduated from Wisconsin high schools in 1957. They were interviewed at various times over their lives to 2011.

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