In an Already Stressful Workplace, Great Recession’s Health Effects Hard to Find

Released: 12-Aug-2014 1:30 PM EDT
Embargo expired: 19-Aug-2014 12:00 AM EDT
Source Newsroom: American Sociological Association (ASA)
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Citations American Sociological Association Annual Meeting, Aug-2014

Newswise — SAN FRANCISCO — The Great Recession of 2007-2009 had little direct effect on the health of workers who survived the waves of job cuts that took place during that period, according to a new University of Akron study.

That’s the good news.

The bad news may be the reason: Increased workloads and less satisfying job duties, the highly stressful byproducts of corporate restructurings during previous economic downturns, had by 2007 become the new normal in the workplace. Because of this long-term trend, workers who remained on the job during the Great Recession were already accustomed to coping with stressful environments that posed a threat to their health.

The study authors, Mark Tausig, a professor of sociology, and Rudy Fenwick, an associate professor of sociology. both at the University of Akron, will present their findings at the 109th Annual Meeting of the American Sociological Association.

Tausig and Fenwick based their conclusions on data collected in the biennial General Social Survey conducted by the National Opinion Research Center. Their new findings contrast with their earlier research into how the 1974-1975 recession affected workplace survivors.

Forty years ago, recession-ravaged companies sought efficiency not only by laying off workers, but also by reconfiguring the jobs of those left standing. Back then, the new experience of more work and less say in decision-making stressed those still on the payroll, Fenwick and Tausig reported in a 1994 study.

Now, they say, the demands imposed by global competition have altered work routines to the point that they mimic the effects of a recession in an earlier era. Therefore, the already rising workplace stress levels could have affected employee health independently of the fallout from the Great Recession.

The researchers also point out that the Great Recession did not affect all workers equally — younger, less-educated, and non-white workers bore the brunt of layoffs. The recession’s primary effect on health was that those groups of workers were the ones most likely to suffer the health consequences of unemployment.

“We argue that that’s probably an indicator of the growing inequality in society,” Tausig said.

And as companies sought more cost savings to survive the Great Recession, the makeup of the remaining workforce shifted to include more involuntarily part-time and as-needed workers.

Part-time and contingent work give employees less say over their work schedules and create more job insecurity, the researchers say — factors also related to poor health.

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About the American Sociological Association
The American Sociological Association (www.asanet.org), founded in 1905, is a non-profit membership association dedicated to serving sociologists in their work, advancing sociology as a science and profession, and promoting the contributions to and use of sociology by society.

The paper, “The Great Recession and Health Among Employed Workers,” will be presented on Tuesday, Aug. 19, at 8:30 a.m. PDT in San Francisco at the American Sociological Association’s 109th Annual Meeting.

To obtain a copy of the paper; for assistance reaching the study’s author(s); or for more information on other ASA presentations, members of the media can contact Daniel Fowler, ASA Media Relations Manager, at (202) 527-7885 or pubinfo@asanet.org. During the Annual Meeting (Aug. 16-19), ASA Public Information Office staff can be reached in the on-site press office, located in the Hilton San Francisco Union Square’s Union Square 1-2 Room, at (415) 923-7506 or (914) 450-4557 (cell).

This press release was written by Roger Mezger, University of Akron. For more information about the study, members of the media can also contact Eileen Korey, Chief Communications Officer, Associate Vice President, University of Akron, at (330) 972-8589 or korey@uakron.edu.

Papers presented at the ASA Annual Meeting are typically working papers that have not yet been published in peer reviewed journals.


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