Author Addresses Dying For A
Paycheck – Literally

By Aysha Ashley Househ

Jeffrey Pfeffer takes a direct approach when talking about the harmful health effects a negative workplace can have on employees. The professor of organizational behavior at the graduate school of business at Stanford University points out that these effects can happen to someone in any industry.

In his new book, “Dying for a Paycheck,” Pfeffer provides evidence and examples to support his claim that negative workplace environments are hurting — and in some cases killing — employees.

Workforce intern Aysha Ashley Househ spoke to Pfeffer about why he thinks wellness programs don’t work and how the government should regulate management practices.

WF: What do you think is the ideal wellness program?

Pfeffer: I think wellness programs fundamentally don’t work. You have workplaces in which people are working long hours, people don’t have job control, people are facing economic insecurity because of layoffs and scheduling issues. And then what employers have tried to do is put on what I would call a Band-Aid. We’re going to offer you yoga or a little exercise.

And they don’t work because they are focused on individual behavior. I want you to stop smoking, I want you to stop drinking, I want you to exercise, I want you to eat better. I remember the quote [in the book] from the woman I called Kim who worked at Amazon. She said, “I would basically do anything, take any drug, to try and numb the psychological pain I was feeling from my workplace.” You need to change the environment, and then the health and wellness programs will work.

WF: What’s your advice for people in a stressful job, but can’t leave?

Pfeffer: Leave. [Laughs] My facetious suggestion of leaving is not completely facetious. Once you have ruined your physical and psychological health by being in these harmful, toxic environments, it is very hard to reverse that damage. If I said to you, you’re in a place where they’re poisoning you, and you can’t leave the place … there’s no answer.

WF: What is one thing you want people to take away from the book?

Pfeffer: The Bob Chapman quote: “Your employer’s more important for your health than your family doctor.”

Employers really are the cause of the health care crisis. Most health care spend is on chronic disease; chronic disease mostly comes from stress and stress comes from the workplace. So, if we want to fix the health care crisis and the health care cost crisis in this country, the place to begin is with the work environment.