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Increased employee control reduces health care costs

Increased employee control over workplace policies or procedures is the only stress-related factor that has a measurable impact on health care costs, according to University of Arkansas researcher Dan Ganster. Ganster is professor of management and chair of the management department in the Walton College of Business.

“Health care costs are the single largest, uncontrolled expense for most companies,” explained Ganster. “We wanted to determine which of the many factors that have been associated with workplace stress actually contributed to health care costs.”

Stress has been shown to be an important factor in employee health care costs, contributing to both mental and physical problems. Many studies have pointed to job-related stress as a factor in major health problems like heart disease. This is the first study to look at the long-term impact on health care costs of a wide range of health-related conditions affected by stress.

Ganster’s study showed that individuals who felt high demand and low control had significantly higher health care costs at the end of five years. These employees also had higher residual cortisol levels, a physiological indicator of stress. Increased cortisol levels persisted several hours after they left the job, which, according to Ganster, indicated an inability to unwind.

“It was the after-work cortisol elevations that predicted health care costs,” Ganster added. “This may mean that the short-term effects that researchers usually study, such as job attitudes, headaches or interrupted sleep, don’t really have much impact on overall health.”

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