Downsizing Raises Risk of Death in Workers

By Bob Price
Published: May 7, 2008
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Corporate downsizing doubles the risk of death from cardiovascular disease and has serious health effects on employees who survive redundancy, suggests new research.

A Finnish study of 22,430 government employees shows that employees who are laid off are not the only ones who suffer health repercussions from major downsizing.

A team of researchers used employer and death records to study the workers from 1991 to 2000. Between 1991 and 1993, unemployment in Finland nearly tripled - to 16.6 per cent - before a national recession ended in 1996.

Those hit hardest by layoffs - losing more than 18 per cent of their colleagues during the worst years of recession - suffered the highest risk of death from cardiovascular disease. They were five times as likely to die of cardiovascular disease in the next four years as those who suffered no layoffs.

And over the 7.5-year study, they were twice as likely to die from cardiovascular conditions than those in a steady work environment.

"We should take work stress seriously," says Jussi Vahtera, at the Finnish Institute of Occupational Health, who led the study. Skeleton crews left behind after massive layoffs have "more work, less control over the work, and more job insecurity", he told New Scientist.

Heart attack or stroke:

Employees who weathered the most severe downsizing also reported more health-related absences than workers untouched by downsizing. But the change was most pronounced in permanent employees. That suggests temporary workers, whose jobs are less secure, may simply go to work sick, say the researchers.

Cardiovascular disease develops over many years and was most likely already present in the workers who died of it. But the stress of downsizing may trigger a heart attack or stroke, Vahtera says, citing a higher risk of these conditions in people whose spouses have just died.

"Employers or policy makers should ask if downsizing is the only way to handle the situation," says Vahtera. "If they do downsize, then it's good that they know the risks."

Concrete effects:

Vahtera believes the real risks of death from cardiovascular disease may be higher than shown by the study. This is because people who kept their jobs were on average healthier than those who lost their jobs. And women under 62 - who are at less risk of cardiovascular disease - also outnumbered men in the study by nearly three to one.


Want more on this and other medical studies? Check out these links:


Finnish Institute of Occupational Health http://www.occuphealth.fi/internet/english


University of Helsinki http://www.helsinki.fi/university


British Medical Journal http://bmj.bmjjournals.com



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