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Inputs: Emerging Issues

Aspects of work organization affect general well-being, physical health, and stress-related outcomes. There are a number of important emerging scientific and health issues related to work organization practices.

  • Work-Life / Flexibility – Women are entering the workforce at increasing rates, and couples are working longer hours. Due to these circumstances and recent trends in family planning (e.g., couples having children later in life when care of elderly family members may also become necessary), workers are increasingly finding themselves “sandwiched” between work and domestic responsibilities. The links between work-life conflict and employees’ well-being and functioning (both at work and home) have become a growing concern for both employers and workers. Further study is needed to examine the risks posed by work-life conflict and especially the design and benefits of work-life programs to restore work-life balance.
  • Disaster Mental Health/Traumatic Stress – 9/11 and recent hurricanes have served to elevate disaster mental health as an area of concern in occupational safety and health, with special attention to stress experienced by emergency responders. Effort is needed along several lines to reduce stress risks among disaster workers, including (1) development of psychosocial instruments to reliably assess psychological stress in post-disaster situations, (2) further study on how disaster response work can be better organized and managed to reduce stress risks, and (3) further study of ways to improve the resilience of disaster workers and to improve mental health interventions to reduce the risks of post-traumatic stress.
  • Depression / Psychological Illness – The mental health of workers is an area of increasing concern to organizations. For example, depressive disorders affect approximately 10% of adults in the U.S. each year and they are among the most costly health problems for organizations. Evidence linking work organization with depression and other mental health problems, and with increased productivity losses, is beginning to accumulate. There is a pressing need to better understand organizational practices and factors that contribute to poor mental health, to develop interventions that effectively target these risk factors, and to translate and disseminate information on risk factors and interventions for application in organizations.
  • Workplace Violence – Studies indicate that as many as one-third of workers report they experienced some sort of psychological aggression, emotional harassment, or abuse while on the job during the past year. Workplace psychological aggression can be costly in terms of individual outcomes, such as increased psychological stress, reduced satisfaction, and poorer physical health, and in terms of organizational outcomes such as turnover, counterproductive work behaviors, and decreased productivity. Research is needed to improve our understanding of individual and organizational risk factors for psychological aggression in the workplace and to develop effective prevention strategies that can be used by organizations to reduce these risks.
  • Older Workers – A critical challenge in public health during the next decade is how to ensure the safety and health of an aging U.S. workforce. The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) estimates that between 2000 and 2015, the number of workers 55 years and older will increase by 72 percent – from 18.2 million to 31.2 million. This compares to a rate of only seven percent for workers between the ages of 16 to 54. Despite this unprecedented increase in the number of older workers, we have only limited knowledge of the safety and health risks they will encounter. Research is needed to better understand the types of jobs and working conditions older workers experience, identify risk factors that may disproportionately affect these workers, and develop best practices and organizational-level interventions designed to improve the safety and health of older workers.
  • Minority Worker Health – Evidence suggests that racial and ethnic minorities, who collectively comprise at least 25% of the U.S. workforce, are overexposed to a variety of health- and safety-compromising conditions due to their overrepresentation in low status occupations and due to issues related specifically to race and ethnicity. Despite these exposures, few research efforts have been directed toward better understanding the occupational safety and health of minorities. Research is needed to develop a more comprehensive knowledge base of the full range of workplace risk factors that impact minority groups. Further, research efforts to develop, implement, and evaluate information and interventions designed to target these risks are also needed.