Of control and stress

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The cumulative effect of feeling in control can be powerful. A series called the Whitehall Studies of the British Civil Service surprised researchers by overturning the popularly held belief that hard-charging executives drive themselves into an early grave. The studies showed instead that low-ranking civil servants are much more likely to die than senior civil servants, even after the research ruled out the influence of weight, cardiovascular fitness, and diet.
They all enjoy the same amount of vacation, and the senior civil servants probably work longer hours. So why such a dramatic difference in mortality? The middle aged workers in the lowest tier of the civil service were 4 times more likely to die than those in top grades. If health care, life style, and environment couldn’t explain this, what did?

What actually predicted how long you lived, the Whitehall researchers discovered, was how much control you had over your workday and how much opportunity you has to develop skills. Those in the study with lower control over their work lives had three times the mortality rate of those who reported high levels of control! Control reduces stress and stress kills.

Megan McArdle, The Upside of Down



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