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Poll: More than 4 in 10 working adults think their work impacts their health

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Boston, MA – A new NPR/Robert Wood Johnson Foundation/Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health poll finds that more than four in ten working adults (44%) say their current job has an impact on their overall health, and one in four (28%) say that impact is positive.

However, in the survey of more than 1,600 workers in the U.S., one in six workers (16%) report that their current job has a negative impact on their health. Workers most likely to say their job has a negative impact on their overall health include those with disabilities (35%), those in dangerous jobs (27%), those in low-paying jobs (26%), those working 50+ hours per week (25%), and those working in the retail sector (26%).

A number of working adults also report that their job has a negative impact on their levels of stress (43%), eating habits (28%), sleeping habits (27%), and weight (22%). "The takeaway here is that job number one for U.S. employers is to reduce stress in the workplace," said Robert J. Blendon, Richard L. Menschel Professor of Health Policy and Political Analysis at Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, who directed the survey.

Note: View the soon to be posted on-demand recording of Harvard Chan School's July 11, 2016 Forum webcast, Health in the American Workplace: Are We Doing Enough?, for more perspectives on the topic: https://theforum.sph.harvard.edu/events/health-in-the-american-workplace-are-we-doing-enough/

A summer-long series on the topic began airing July 11, 2016 on NPR.

View the complete poll findings.

Key Findings

Figure 1. Do you think your current job is good or bad for your [INSERT ITEM], or does it not have an impact one way or another?

Responses: Stress Level: bad impact, 43%, no impact, 39%, good impact, 16%;

Eating Habits: bad impact, 28%, no impact, 56%, good impact, 15%;

Sleeping Habits: bad impact, 27%, no impact, 55%, good impact, 17%;

Weight: bad impact, 22%, no impact, 57%, good impact, 19%

Note: Percentages may not add up to 100% because Don't Know/Refused responses are not shown.

Chemicals and contaminants top list of biggest health concerns in the workplace

About one in five working adults (22%) say that something at their job may be harmful to their health, including 43% of construction or outdoor workers and 34% of workers in medical jobs.

Among workers with any health concerns about their workplace, the most frequently cited health concerns mentioned are chemicals and other contaminants (30%), unhealthy air (13%), accidents or injuries (12%), and stress (11%).

About one in four workers rate their workplace as fair or poor in providing a healthy work environment; about half are offered wellness or health improvement programs

About one in four workers (24%) rate their workplace as only fair or poor in providing a healthy work environment; however, 34% give their workplace a rating of excellent. About half (51%) say their workplace offers any formal wellness or health improvement programs to help keep themselves healthy.

"Every year, U.S. businesses lose more than $225 billion because of sick and absent workers," said Robert Wood Johnson President and CEO Risa Lavizzo-Mourey. "But I believe that business drives culture change and with them on board we can succeed in building a Culture of Health in America. It's not a hard connection to make. In many companies as much as 50 percent of profits are eaten up by health care costs."

Nearly half of all workers (45%) rate their workplace as only fair or poor in providing healthy food options. Over half of workers in factory or manufacturing jobs (55%), medical jobs (52%), retail outlets (52%), and construction or outdoor jobs (51%) give their workplace a fair or poor rating at providing healthy food options.

A majority of 'workaholics' say they work longer hours because it is important to their career; half say they enjoy working longer hours.

About one in five working adults (19%) say they work 50 or more hours per week in their main job; these workers are called 'workaholics' in this study. When given a list of possible reasons why they work 50+ hours per week, a majority of these workers (56%) say they do so because it's important for their career to work longer hours, 50% say they enjoy doing so, and just 37% say they do it because they need the money.

A majority of working adults say they still go to work when they are sick

A majority (55%) of working adults say they still go to work always or most of the time when they have a cold or the flu, including more than half (60%) of those who work in medical jobs and half (50%) of restaurant workers.

Types of workers who are most likely to still go to work always or most of the time when they are sick include those working 50+ hours per week in their main job (70%), those working two or more jobs (68%), workers in low-paying jobs (65%), and younger workers ages 18-29 (60%).

Low-wage workers often face worse conditions than high-wage workers

Working adults in self-reported low-paying jobs often report worse working conditions than those in high-paying jobs. For instance, more than four in ten workers in low-paying jobs report facing potentially dangerous situations at work (45% vs. 33% in high-paying jobs), and almost two-thirds (65% vs. 48% in high-paying jobs) say they still go to work always or most of the time when they are sick.

One in four workers in low-paying jobs (26%) say their job has a negative impact on their overall health, compared to just 14% of those in high-paying jobs. "In an era of concern about low-wage workers, it's clear they face more negative health impacts from their jobs compared to those who are paid substantially more," said Blendon.

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Methodology

This poll is part of an ongoing series of surveys developed by researchers at the Harvard Opinion Research Program (HORP) at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health in partnership with the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and NPR. The research team consists of the following members at each institution.

  • Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health: Robert J. Blendon, Professor of Health Policy and Political Analysis and Executive Director of HORP; John M. Benson, Research Scientist and Managing Director of HORP; Justin M. Sayde, Administrative and Research Manager; and Mary T. Gorski, Research Fellow.
  • Robert Wood Johnson Foundation: Fred Mann, Vice President, Communications; Carolyn Miller, Senior Program Officer, Research and Evaluation; and Joe Costello, Director of Marketing.
  • NPR: Anne Gudenkauf, Senior Supervising Editor, Science Desk; and Joe Neel, Deputy Senior Supervising Editor, Science Desk.

Interviews were conducted by SSRS of Media (PA) via telephone (including both landline and cell phone) using random-digit dialing, January 6 – February 7, 2016, among a nationally representative probability sample of 1,601 workers in the U.S. In this survey, "workers" are defined as adults working full- or part-time who are either employers or work for someone else in their main job (not self-employed), and who work for 20 hours or more hours per week in their main job. The interviews were conducted in English and Spanish. The margin of error for total respondents is +/- 2.9 percentage points at the 95% confidence level.

Possible sources of non-sampling error include non-response bias, as well as question wording and ordering effects. Non-response in telephone surveys produces some known biases in survey-derived estimates because participation tends to vary for different subgroups of the population. To compensate for these known biases and for variations in probability of selection within and across households, sample data are weighted by cell phone/landline use and demographics (sex, age, race/ethnicity, education, and number of adults in household) to reflect the true population. Other techniques, including random-digit dialing, replicate subsamples, and systematic respondent selection within households, are used to ensure that the sample is representative.

For more information:

Todd Datz
Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health
[email protected]
617-432-8413

Melissa Blair
Robert Wood Johnson Foundation
[email protected]
609-627-5937

Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health brings together dedicated experts from many disciplines to educate new generations of global health leaders and produce powerful ideas that improve the lives and health of people everywhere. As a community of leading scientists, educators, and students, we work together to take innovative ideas from the laboratory to people's lives — not only making scientific breakthroughs, but also working to change individual behaviors, public policies, and health care practices. Each year, more than 400 faculty members at Harvard Chan teach 1,000-plus full-time students from around the world and train thousands more through online and executive education courses. Founded in 1913 as the Harvard-MIT School of Health Officers, the School is recognized as America's oldest professional training program in public health.

For more than 40 years the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation has worked to improve health and health care. We are working with others to build a national Culture of Health enabling everyone in America to live longer, healthier lives. For more information, visit http://www.rwjf.org. Follow the Foundation on Twitter at http://www.rwjf.org/twitter or on Facebook at http://www.rwjf.org/facebook.

NPR connects to audiences on the air, online, and in person. More than 26 million radio listeners tune in to NPR each week and more than 30 million unique visitors access NPR.org each month, making NPR one of the most trusted sources of news and insights on life and the arts. NPR shares compelling stories, audio and photos with millions of social media users on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest, YouTube and Snapchat; NPR News and NPR One apps, online streaming, podcasts, iTunes radio and connected car dashboards help meet audiences where they are. NPR's live events bring to the stage two-way conversations between NPR hosts and the audience in collaboration with the public radio Member Station community. This robust access to public service journalism makes NPR an indispensable resource in the media landscape.

Media Contact

Todd Datz
[email protected]
617-432-8413
@HarvardHSPH

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