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Dying for a Paycheck

September 2, 2018

Video Length 2:40

Who Should Read It

Everyone in the workforce, including and especially those in upper management

 

Why Should We Read It

If we truly care about our employees and our company mission, then we should understand why it's profitable to enact policies that truly sustains our employees' health and growth potential.

 

What Will We Learn

Companies who continue to invest in true human sustainability, even in the sight of economic distress, find that their healthy workers will continue to find inspiration to innovate- driving both job satisfaction and shareholder profits.

 

Book Summary

 

 

"None of us ever ponder if it is our jobs that drive our ill health. How could it? It pays for our medical bills!"

 

When we think about sickness and health, we might think about infectious diseases like the flu, measles, syphilis, or pneumonia. Some of us might conjure more chronic conditions like heart disease, stroke, diabetes, and hypertension. We tend to attribute these conditions to our personal social lives and environment- are we more likely to be physically active or sedentary? Do we wash our hands? Do we eat and drink the right things? Very few of us think about health and how it relates to our jobs. To the extent that we do think about this connection, we generally are grateful that we might be among the fortunate few who receive health benefits through our jobs. None of us ever ponder if it is our jobs that drive our ill health. How could it? It pays for our medical bills! This is where the title of Jeffrey Pfeffer's book speaks for itself: Dying for a Paycheck: How Modern Management Harms Employee Health and Company Performance- and What We Can Do About It.       

 

"Other than providing health insurance to workers, most companies do not track their employees' health in any meaningful manner." 

 

Mr. Pfeffer offers mountains of public health data to highlight a glaring lack of data within private companies: other than providing health insurance to workers, most companies do not track their employees' health in any meaningful manner. Many companies do have wellness programs that target individual behaviors, like the usual mandates for reasonable alcohol use, smoking cessation, and diet/exercise. Nearly none of them look at their own work environment as a possible driver of those individual behaviors. If these wellness programs measure anything, it is how they reduce health costs, not the wellness of their employees directly. In this modern world, our values (both as individuals and as a company) are no more than what we measure. If we care about each other's health, then we will work to provide health insurance, to ensure living wages, and to enforce balanced work-family policies. If we care about health costs, then we will work to decrease health cost.

 

"Newly stressed survivors of the recent company lay-off are incentivized to play it safe rather than to find inspiration to innovate."

 

The distinction between wellness and health cost is subtle, but crucial. Cost reduction is easy, and the strategy as old as time: company lay-offs. From a wellness perspective, the lay-offs rarely improve, and probably decrease health. Newly stressed survivors of the recent company lay-off are incentivized to play it safe rather than to find inspiration to innovate. The layoffs themselves do not solve any underlying business problem (product quality, market acceptance, etc), and reduce the value proposition offered to the market- further exacerbating the pressure to find profit. The company might be tempted to re-hire some of their former employees as independent contractors as to avoid paying for their health insurance. Cost reduction is still achieved, with a "new deal at work" in place in which future employment is not guaranteed. Much like an infectious contagion like Ebola, there exists the phenomenon of the social contagion- people who work with people with economic insecurity will feel insecure themselves. Wellness deteriorates.

 

"Perhaps. But that (free perks) is not what makes a workplace inherently great."

 

But surely, a company must truly care for us if they give us free perks! Perhaps. But that is not what makes a workplace inherently great. What makes a great workplace are the twofold factors that make us the most human: an environment in which our skills and experiences are both appreciated and utilized, and an environment in which we have all the social support needed to fulfill our duties and to grow as individuals. None of us want to be micromanaged. In fact, it’s the opposite-we all want to be the ones to manage something that befits our abilities. No matter how simple or complex the job description, the best predictor of job satisfaction and work motivation is not amenities, but job autonomy- the amount of discretion we have to determine what we do and how we do it. Our job might be as simple as cleaning the trashcan; if our company doesn't appreciate our expertise in dumping trash, it would be wise to consider a different work environment.

 

"Find a work environment that is supportive and appreciative of our skillset and growth potential."

 

Mr. Pfeffer has a provocative title for his book: Dying for a Paycheck.  From a certain point of view, our work environment might certainly be taking years away from our lives (he actually has numbers to back up his assertions).  For the individual employee, he delivers a self-evident message: find a work environment that is supportive and appreciative of our skillset and growth potential.  For the upper management, he has a revolutionary idea: if our team members and our company mission truly are indispensable, then we should enact policies that sustain and nurture our well-being.  There needs not be a mutually exclusive choice between profit and employee health.  In fact, the two goals are very much intertwined.  Companies who continue to invest in true human sustainability, even in the sight of economic distress, find that their healthy workers will continue to find inspiration to innovate- driving  both job satisfaction and shareholder profits.

 

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