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Power at work can take a toll on health

</head> <body> <p>By Amy Norton</p> <p>NEW YORK (Reuters Health) - A new study on job authority and health suggests that the top is not only lonely, but can also take a toll on physical and mental well-being.</p> <p>Using data from 1,800 U.S. workers, researchers found that the negative aspects of having a power position at work seemed to cancel out the positive aspects when it came to people's physical and psychological health.</p> <p>That is, while job authority generally meant higher pay and more engaging work -- both associated with health benefits -- people in these positions were also more likely to report conflicts with co-workers and to say that work intruded on their home life. And both of those factors, the researchers found, were related to more health complaints and higher levels of anger.</p> <p>The findings, reported in the journal Social Science & Medicine, help explain a paradox in research on work life and health.</p> <p>For years, studies have shown that people in lower-status jobs generally have higher rates of heart disease and other ills, and die earlier, than those in higher-status positions. In particular, work with high demands but little to no decision-making power has been linked to poorer health.</p> <p>Yet, job authority -- which often goes hand-in-hand with higher status, more pay and greater independence -- has generally shown no association with workers' health.</p> <p>These latest findings suggest that the pros and cons of authority positions essentially cancel each other out -- giving the general impression that job authority has no health effects.</p> <p>"One way to view it is, were it not for their greater exposure to interpersonal conflict at work and work-to-home interference, individuals with higher levels of authority would tend to report fewer physical symptoms, symptoms of psychological distress, and less anger," explained lead researcher Dr. Scott Schieman, a professor of sociology at the University of Toronto in Canada.</p> <p>"This isn't to suggest that having authority is 'bad' -- in fact, we show it has benefits," he told Reuters Health in an email.</p> <p>"But," Schieman added, "it is important to identify the downsides and deal with them."</p> <p>For the study, the researchers surveyed participants about various aspects of their work life and well-being. Job authority was gauged based on whether a person managed other employees and had power over hiring, firing and pay.</p> <p>Physical health complaints included problems like headaches, body aches, heartburn and fatigue; psychological complaints included sleep problems, difficulty concentrating and feelings of sadness, worry and anxiety.</p> <p>For people in authority positions, conflicts with co-workers or intrusion of work into home life may chip away at physical and mental well-being by creating chronic stress.</p> <p>"These are key stressors that can tax individuals' capacity to function effectively," Schieman noted.</p> <p>While research has typically focused on the negative health effects of lower-status work, he said, it is also important to recognize the "stress of higher status."</p> <p>SOURCE: Social Science & Medicine, online September 30, 2009.</p> </body> </html> </div><!-- end article-body --> </div><!-- end aticle-body-wrapper --> <aside> <ul class="social-share-btns 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