UW study: Is there a secret recipe for getting the most out of workers?

Oct 2, 2019, 5:22 AM

Much of the studies on workers or employment have focused on the physical environment and the toll on the human body. But little has been known about how general employment conditions like pay or hours can affect an employee’s health — until now.

Seattle company continues expansion of $70K minimum salary

“Generally speaking, things like being a contract worker, having very low wages, not having a lot of control, appear to be detrimental,” said Anjun Hajat, addressing just one aspect of a new study out of the University of Washington.

“So we’ve known forever that poverty is bad for your health,” she continued. “And a lot of these jobs where we find they have to poor employment quality, also tend to be pretty low-income. Gig workers are definitely important to keep in mind when we talk about this because they often have less security in every aspect of their work.”

According to a new study authored by Hajat and Trevor Peckham with the University of Washington, employment conditions influence health outcomes. Basically, whether the employer or regulations determine the quality of work, that work will affect overall health, or even the risk of being injured on the job.

By considering a combination of pay, hours, or leave benefits, employers could potentially tap into a sweet spot of work quality. Hajat and Peckham told KIRO Radio’s Dave Ross this means happier workers. And that in turn means higher productivity.

“What we’re saying is that the experience of employment really depends on a package of different things,” Peckham said. “So if you’re meant to feel powerless or you think your work is unfair, this could cause psychological stress or it could cause it to be difficult to do life planning. If you don’t know where your next job is, it’s hard to have a family and plan.”

Such factors could include income levels, contract versus permanent positions, or scheduling.

The study used data from the General Social Survey collected between 2002 to 2014 and considered a pool of 6,000 employees. It found that one in five workers had a “standard employment relationship,” meaning permanent work and regular hours. On the other end of that spectrum are workers with poor employment conditions — non-permanent, contract, low hours, low wages.

Peckham said that they found several patterns in between. For example, one result was found in a group of workers with fairly standard, stable full-time hours and decent wages. Sounds pretty good on the surface.

Almost half of Seattle households make six-figure salary

“But they also have really low flexibility over their schedule, they have low involvement in decision-making, they’re experiencing harassment,” Peckham said. “These are all indicators that they’re fairly disempowered. And when you look at associations with health, they report worse self-reported health, worse mental health, more occupational injuries. So if you were just going to focus on contract type or wages, you might miss some of these things that might be related to health.”

They also found a group of workers with lower hours and lower wages, but they had a high sense of opportunity, control, and decision making. They reported levels of health similar to standard jobs. Such factors could indicate there is an employment recipe to get the most out of workers. This could not only influence policy makers in government, but also the culture of employers.

“One other thing that we might think about, that the Europeans do, is they have really flexible economies where it’s easy to hire and fire people and they tend to be ‘business-friendly,’” Peckham said. “But they also couple that with a high social safety net, so the consequences of losing your job tend to be lower there.”

Dave Ross on KIRO Newsradio 97.3 FM
  • listen to dave rossTune in to KIRO Newsradio weekdays at 5am for Dave Ross on Seattle's Morning News.

Dave's Commentary

Dave Ross

Dave Ross

Ross: Chinese balloon shot down was ripe for counter-surveillance

What I can say is that if I were in charge of monitoring China, I’d be tracking every Chinese balloon from the moment it broke 1000 feet
1 day ago
Michael Simeona

Watch Dave Ross try to outsmart his new AI friend ChatGPT

If you've listened to Dave Ross these past few months, you know his fascination with the new AI tool called ChatGPT.
2 days ago
Dave Ross

Ross: Was it a Chinese spy balloon, or luxury space travel prototype?

The defense department says it has been tracking a huge Chinese balloon over Montana
4 days ago
Dave Ross

Ross: ‘Police used as substitute for properly funding social services’

The reason we keep seeing abuses like the fatal beating of Tyre Nichols in Memphis. It’s rooted in American culture.
5 days ago
Dave Ross

Ross: More millennials need their parents help, but for how much longer

Dave was shocked to hear about the latest statistics from Money.com on the number of millennials being subsidized by their parents.
6 days ago
Dave Ross

Ross: Morning people have the ideal lifestyle, it’s just science!

When I took this morning job, there wasn’t much competition. It was basically, "we need someone who can be here at 4:45 a.m.”
7 days ago

Sponsored Articles

safety from crime...

As crime increases, our safety measures must too

It's easy to be accused of fearmongering regarding crime, but Seattle residents might have good reason to be concerned for their safety.
Comcast Ready for Business Fund...
Ilona Lohrey | President and CEO, GSBA

GSBA is closing the disparity gap with Ready for Business Fund

GSBA, Comcast, and other partners are working to address disparities in access to financial resources with the Ready for Business fund.

Medicare open enrollment is here and SHIBA can help!

The SHIBA program – part of the Office of the Insurance Commissioner – is ready to help with your Medicare open enrollment decisions.
Lake Washington Windows...

Choosing Best Windows for Your Home

Lake Washington Windows and Doors is a local window dealer offering the exclusive Leak Armor installation.
Anacortes Christmas Tree...

Come one, come all! Food, Drink, and Coastal Christmas – Anacortes has it all!

Come celebrate Anacortes’ 11th annual Bier on the Pier! Bier on the Pier takes place on October 7th and 8th and features local ciders, food trucks and live music - not to mention the beautiful views of the Guemes Channel and backdrop of downtown Anacortes.
Swedish Cyberknife Treatment...

The revolutionary treatment of Swedish CyberKnife provides better quality of life for majority of patients

There are a wide variety of treatments options available for men with prostate cancer. One of the most technologically advanced treatment options in the Pacific Northwest is Stereotactic Body Radiation Therapy using the CyberKnife platform at Swedish Medical Center.
UW study: Is there a secret recipe for getting the most out of workers?