Feeling Out of Control at Work? It Could Be Hazardous to Your Health

working in retail
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We know a high-stress job can be bad for your health (and your marriage).

But a new study suggests a demanding job could actually benefit your well-being — under the right circumstances.

Researchers at the Indiana University Kelley School of Business conducted a study to find the relationship between job demands, level of control and likelihood of death. They looked at a sample of more than 2,300 Wisconsin residents in their mid-60s over seven years.

The study found job positions with low control and high demand — like retail, food service or office administrative work — increased the likelihood of death by 15%.

Plainly, lack of control in your job could mean you’ll die younger.

The demand of these jobs — dealing with customers, odd shifts and hours on your feet — take a physical and psychological toll on the body.

That’s aggravated by relatively low control. Employees have little say over how things are run or what they can do to resolve stressful situations.

However, high-demand jobs where employees have greater control decreased the likelihood of death by 34%.

A CEO may deal with a lot of demand, but they also dictate exactly how to solve the issues they face. In that case, a job is challenging and rewarding, not exhausting and wearing.

So it may not be stress in your job that deteriorates your health, but your inflexibility to deal with that stress.

“Job demands, especially those linked to challenge stressors, are stressors that individuals are motivated to resolve, and strain is likely to result when individuals are unable to resolve the source of stress,” the study authors wrote, Forbes reported.

To explain the decrease in likelihood of death for high-demand jobs with higher control, authors wrote:

“This stems from our logic that, when coupled with high control, demanding jobs provide individuals with psychological fulfillment derived from personal growth, demonstration of mastery, and increased feelings of competence because they have the necessary resources to respond to challenges in the work environment.”

How to Get Greater Control in Your Job

The study’s authors make recommendations for managers to offer employees more control — or perception of control — in their job.

“We urge managers to consider the effects that job demands and control factors have on employee mortality when structuring work,” they wrote.

That’s a heavy burden for managers to bear.

Why not be proactive and take on some of the responsibility yourself? Here are some tips for taking back control at work.

1. Ask for a raise.

Some of the most helpless moments in my life have been working a miserable job and still not being able to make ends meet. Take the reins, and ask to be paid what you’re worth.

Afraid to start? Read these tips on how to ask for a raise.

2. Change the way you work.

Do you struggle to get your work done because of inefficiencies in the processes you were taught? Do it differently!

Sometimes you just have to show the boss your way works. TPH contributor Steve Gillman said when he was working in restaurant management, he was able to get his bosses to let him log three hours’ pay for one hour of work because he saved them so much overall with his efficiency.

3. Learn as much as you can.

When I worked in retail food service in my late teens, I generally despised every rule handed down from our corporate overlords.

But I was able to enjoy my job, because I made my manager explain the reasoning behind every one of those rules, giving me a crash course of sorts in retail business management.

Learning what was going on in the corporate offices helped me better understand the work I was doing on the ground and made me feel (a little) less like an unimportant cog in the machine.

It also helped me resolve tricky customer complaints, because I could actually answer the questions customers had about why we did things the way we did.

4. Build alliances.

Alright, maybe don’t go as far as to team up with certain coworkers in battle against others. But it could help to develop relationships at work, both with people in your position and higher-ups.

Allies in your position can teach you new strategies for problem-solving. Strong ties with your managers or supervisors might mean they’re more willing to listen to your input or throw you a bone when you need it.

One study even showed people with friends at work live longer!

5. Don’t try so hard.

This may not always be the solution, but it’s not a terrible idea.

Gillman suggests, “Maybe you just take your job too seriously and work too hard. That crappy job might be more bearable if you just do less.”

You may be a natural go-getter or problem-solver. But if the problems in your job are above your paygrade, let ‘em go. Do your job, but don’t take on extra stress if it’s not going to pay off.

Your Turn: What tips can you add for taking control in a low-control job?

Dana Sitar (@danasitar) is a staff writer at The Penny Hoarder. She’s written for Huffington Post, Entrepreneur.com, Writer’s Digest and more, attempting humor wherever it’s allowed (and sometimes where it’s not).