people in one survey were hospitalized
— hospitalized! — because of workplace
stress; 50% had missed time at work
because of stress. People are quitting their
jobs because of stress. The business costs
Did you change your mind about anything
when working on the book? Yes, I changed
my mind in the following way: It’s worse
than I thought. And obviously these
workforce things that cause ill health do
not fall equally on the population. If you
are less educated, you have more economic
insecurity, the likelihood of receiving
benefits is lower, your ability to control your
work hours and your job are worse, and so
health outcomes are worse. But I didn’t
think it would be as bad for as many people.
I didn’t think the workplace would
be the fifth leading cause of death in the
United States. And, by the way, when I talk
to HR people, they say the numbers we have
are certainly wrong: They are too low.
I want to wake people up. This is a serious
issue that has serious consequences for
corporate performance and for people’s
well-being. We should care about people’s
psychological and physical health, not just
about profits. Δ
is going to get
lawyer will win
award, and that
Companies also play to our egos. They
say, “What’s wrong with you? Aren’t you
good enough? We’re a special organization.
We’re changing the world and only certain
people are going to be up for the task.” Who
wants to admit they’re not good enough?
And we are influenced by what we see
our peers doing. I’ve had people say to
me: “I look around and all my colleagues
are working themselves to death. What
makes me think I’m so special that I don’t
have to?” We have come to normalize the
unacceptable. It’s hideous.
You make clear that yoga classes and
nap rooms won’t fix this. What are some
of the ways this culture might change?
I don’t think it’s going to. What changed
environmental pollution? People decided
that we were not going to permit companies
to create a world with polluted air and
I cannot see that happening with respect
to the workplace in the current political
environment and the push for deregulation.
And, for reasons I’ve already alluded
to, I think people don’t necessarily see,
recognize, or appreciate what’s going on in
the workplace. To the extent that they do,
they think it’s inevitable — everyone has to
be working long hours and be miserable.
You know what might change this?
I gave a talk on this to Stanford alumni and
afterward a lawyer came up to me and said
there are going to be lawsuits.
On what grounds? In a way parallel to the
lawsuits that were filed against tobacco
companies. Some companies are killing
their workers. People have been harmed. If
I had to bet on how this will change, some
company is going to get sued, some lawyer
will win an enormous award, and that will
open the floodgates.
If you meet with executives, can you
make a competitive strategy argument
to not treat employees this way?
Is that effective? Depends on whether
they have any sense.
There’s data on this — there shouldn’t
need to be, but there is — that suggests that
when people come to work sick, they’re not
as productive. Companies have problems
with presenteeism — people physically on
the job but not really paying attention to
what they are doing — with lost workdays
from psychological stress and illness, with
high health care costs. Seven percent of
Jeffrey Pfeffer is the Thomas D.
Dee II Professor of Organizational
Behavior at Stanford GSB.
Why is this normal? I can speculate. Maybe
it’s because we see the polar bears and the
trees and the physical environment as not
being agentic, in the sense of not being
able to take action to defend themselves.
And maybe we see human beings as being
more agentic and responsible for their own
When I talk about this book, I’ve had
plenty of people say to me that if someone
doesn’t like where he’s working, then he
needs to go find another job. Which is easier
said than done.
You talk about a number of barriers to
moving, and one of those is individual
psychology. What is that psychological
dynamic? There are many issues. One
simple one that we should never overlook
is sheer exhaustion. Finding a job is itself
a job. If you are physically or psychologically
drained by workplace stress, then you’re
not going to have the capacity to go out and
look for another job.
of employees have missed time
at work because of stress.