Is Work Making Us Sick?

Is Work Making Us Sick? September 13, 2023

Daily we are hearing phrases such as quiet quitting and quiet firing.  The newest addition to the quiet revolution is “quiet cutting”.  A new move in which companies are performing role reassignments.  Though all the moves being made are quietly being done, they are resulting in loud consequences.  From increased workloads, increased stress, and increased workforce unease, is the new state of work, post pandemic, making us sick?

Stressed Employee

There has been an increase in articles reporting about the new phenomenon called quiet cutting.  According to the U.S. Office of Personnel Management, quiet cutting is defined as “a change of an employee, while serving continuously within the same agency, from one position to another without promotion or demotion”.  In other words, employees are being reassigned at the discretion of their employers, whether they are an appropriate fit or not.  The reassignment may be to a lesser position and resulting in a reduction in pay.  The goal of the company is to protect from layoffs, avoid paying severance or unemployment benefits.

While employees are experiencing issues such as quiet cutting or departments are experiencing the effects of downsizing and quiet firing, it is taking a toll on the employees.  The effects of quiet cutting have resulted in stress of uncertainty in workplace dynamics and burnout from overwork.  The new world of work is resulting in increased challenges to the mental, emotional, and physical health of its workforce.

Workplace Health Statistics

  • According to the CDC, work stress is the leading workplace health problem and a major occupational health risk, ranking above physical inactivity and obesity.
  • The average American full-time worker spends more than 1/3 of their day, 5 days per week at work.
  • 4 of 10 of the costliest health conditions for US employers are: angina pectoris (chest pain), high blood pressure, diabetes, heart attack (related to heart disease and stroke).
  • Working more than 61 hours per week increased an employee’s risk of experiencing high systolic blood pressure and causes issues like fatigue and stress.
  • Stress results in “accidents, absenteeism, employee turnover, diminished productivity, and direct medical, legal and insurance costs” to the tune of $300 billion per year in the U.S.
  • Healthcare expenditures are nearly 50% greater for workers who report high levels of stress.
  • According to the World Health Organization (WHO), in May 2019, burnout was classified as an “occupational phenomenon”. Symptoms include feeling exhausted, feeling negative or cynical toward the job, reduced professional efficacy.
Sick Employee

Recognizing the Signs of Overwork

According to the Cleveland Clinic there are 6 Red Flags to watch out for if you think you may be suffering from overwork.  They are:

  • Lack of Taking Care of Yourself
  • Sleep Disturbances
  • Skipping Meals or Not Eating Enough
  • Not Participating in Enough Exercise to Balance the Stress
  • Substance Abuse to Cope
  • Neglecting Important Relationships or Missing Crucial Social Time

If you find yourself experiencing one or more of these symptoms, it is time to seek help.  Check with your primary care physician.  Seek support from family and friends.  Speak with your manager or human resources professional to discuss what is causing the stress resulting in the illness.

Greater Demand but Less Support

Is it fair to demand more of employees at the expense of their health and well-being?  How does demanding more of an already burned-out, stressed-out workforce benefit organizations and businesses?

Demanding Boss
Demanding Boss

The current state of work is like reading the story of the oppression of the children of Israel in Egypt as found in Exodus 1:8-22 and Exodus 5:1-19.  Under the oppression of Egypt, the children of Israel were forced to work under difficult conditions.  The taskmasters were set over them to oppress them with forced labor.  The text says, “The Egyptians became ruthless in imposing tasks on the Israelites”.  It became so bad that the Egyptians imposed more work upon the Israelites, provided less resources but still expected them to maintain the same output and quality of work.

6 That same day Pharaoh commanded the taskmasters of the people, as well as their supervisors, 7 “You shall no longer give the people straw to make bricks, as before; let them go and gather straw for themselves. 8 But you shall require of them the same quantity of bricks as they have made previously; do not diminish it. (Exodus 5:6-8 NRSV)

As we look at the world of work today, resources are becoming less available. Instead of hiring more workers, the workforce is being decreased, yet the employees are expected to do more work.  They are expected to maintain the current output, if not greater.  Out of fear of the consequences, such as being reassigned or possibly fired, employees are working harder and longer at the expense of their mental, emotional, and physical well-being.

How Did We Get Here?

Prior to the Fair Labor Standards Act of 1940, the number of hours people worked began to be an area of concern.  During the hunting and gathering period, people worked the number of hours needed to meet their needs.  When machinery became part of the American work landscape, the number of hours worked was reviewed in 1890.  Research found people were working over 100 hours per week.  In 1926, Henry Ford and the Ford Motor Company adapted a 5 day/40-hour workweek.  It would not be until 1940 that congress would amend the Fair Labor Standards Act.  The 40-hour workweek would take effect, down from 44 hours per week.

Working Hard
Working Hard

Fast forward to present day, many workers are working more than 40 hours per week to keep up with workplace demand.  Leaders and managers are wanting employees to work more and more hours, especially with the increased workplace shortages due to the “quiet” era (quiet quitting, quiet cutting, and quiet firing) and the great resignation.  Workers feel the demand to work longer to keep their jobs, stay ahead of workload or put themselves in position for a raise or promotion.  All the while, healthcare costs are increasing as more employees are experiencing increased illness due to stress.

How Can We Fix an Unhealthy System?

One of the buzz words within our present work culture is work-life balance.  While it sounds good in theory, it is not as easy to achieve without intentionality.  Work-life balance involves the minimization of work-related stress, and the establishing of a stable and sustainable way to work while maintaining health and general well-being.

As work-life balance continues to be out of control, it results in higher health costs, increased workplace stress and increased illness of employees.  One way to course correct this behavior starts with how we view work.  Work should be viewed from the perspective of productivity rather than number of hours worked.  Additionally, management and leadership teams must change how they see their employees.  Rather than seeing them as numbers, they should see them as people to be invested in.  Investment looks like more flexible schedules, more mental health resources, insisting on time off from work and other workplace wellness initiatives.

By definition, work-life balance involves the minimization of work-related stress, and the establishing of a stable and sustainable way to work while maintaining health and general well-being.

Employees who feel they matter to their work organizations, enjoy working and will seek to do their best.  Leaders and managers should work together with their employees to create more flexible work environments.  Lastly, it may be time for the world of work to be re-evaluated from a government perspective.  Just as in 1940, the Fair Labor Standards Act was amended to reflect a 40-hour work week, perhaps it is time to consider a new amendment.  It may be time to explore and adopt the 4-day work week or a 32-hour work week as full-time.  There is no quick fix nor easy answer.  However, it takes for all parties – the government, public and private industry, and its employees to work together to build a healthier and more sustainable work environment.


About Evita L. Smith
Evita L. Smith is the owner of Exceptional Living Empowerment Coaching and Training (ELECT). As a certified Leadership and Wellness Coach, she seeks to help leaders develop the tools to live holistically healthy lives in order to lead others well. Evita is a licensed and ordained pastor. She serves as the founding Pastor of Kingdom Seekers Community Church in Atlanta, Georgia. She currently resides in Lithonia, Georgia. You can read more about the author here.

Browse Our Archives