Unhealthy Work: Causes, Consequences, Cures (Critical Approaches in the Health, Social Sciences)

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Peter Schnall
Marnie Dobson
Ellen Rosskam
Paul Landsbergis
Deborah Gordon

Work, so fundamental to well-being, has its darker and more costly side. Work can adversely affect our health, well beyond the usual counts of injuries that we think of as ‘occupational health’. The ways in which work is organized – its pace and intensity, degree of control over the work process, sense of justice, and employment security, among other things – can be as toxic to the health of workers as the chemicals in the air. These work characteristics can be detrimental not only to mental well-being but to physical health. Scientists refer to these features of work as ‘hazards’ of the ‘psychosocial’ work environment. One key pathway from the work environment to illness is through the mechanism of stress; thus we speak of ‘stressors’ in the work environment, or ‘work stress’. This is in contrast to the popular psychological understandings of ‘stress’, which locate many of the problems with the individual rather than the environment. In this book we advance a social environmental understanding of the workplace and health. The book addresses this topic in three parts: the important changes taking place in the world of work in the context of the global economy (Part I); scientific findings on the effects of particular forms of work organization and work stressors on employees’ health, ‘unhealthy work’ as a major public health problem, and estimates of costs to employers and society (Part II); and, case studies and various approaches to improve working conditions, prevent disease, and improve health (Part III).

About the Author

Peter Schnall is a clinical professor of medicine at the University of California, Irvine, Division of Occupational and Environmental Medicine, where he directs the program in work organization and cardiovascular disease. He is a recognized expert and active researcher on the role of occupational stress in causing hypertension and cardiovascular disease. Dr. Schnall is also the director of a nonprofit foundation, the Center for Social Epidemiology, based in Venice, California, whose purpose is to educate the public about the health consequences of work stress.

Marnie Dobson is a medical sociologist and is currently a research associate at the Center for Occupational and Environmental Health at the University of California, Irvine, and associate director of the Center for Social Epidemiology in Venice, California. She received her Ph.D. in social science from the Department of Sociology at UC Irvine. Her research interests focus on gender and work, emotional labor, and work organization/psychosocial stressors and mental health outcomes.

Ellen Rosskam is a policy scholar at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, visiting senior fellow at the University of Surrey, Faculty of Health and Medical Sciences, visiting professor at the University of Massachusetts, Lowell, Work Environment Department, and principal at Rosskam International Development Consulting. She is a public health and social protection specialist, and is author of many books and scientific publications. Her latest book is Excess Baggage: Leveling the Load and Changing the Workplace (Baywood, 2007).

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