Washington Study Suggests Employment Quality Impacts Worker Health

F.J. Thomas

Seattle, WA (WorkersCompensation.com) – A new study from Washington State suggests that more than just work environment impacts the health of employees. The study, Evaluating Employment Quality as a Determinant of Health in a Changing Labor Market, reviewed the relationship between Employment Quality (EQ) and health of workers. Data from the General Social Survey from 2002 to 2014 included responses from 6,000 workers. Conclusions were made using self-reported health, mental health, and occupational injury statistics within the responses.

“Our study suggests that it is the different combinations of employment characteristics, which workers experience together as a package, that is important for their health,” said Trevor Peckham, lead author and a clinical instructor at UW. He believes more study needs to be done on the efforts of the workplace on overall health.

The study

Several job aspects were reviewed when considering overall EQ, including wages, hours worked, schedule control, potential for advancement, representation or empowerment, engagement, access to information or equipment in order to perform a job, and workplace harassment potential.

Work was classified not only by the type of employment, but other factors such a salary and benefits.

  • Standard Employment Relationship – Permanent, stable employment with adequate wages, regular hours, adequate access to information or equipment to perform their job. Low potential for harassment or stressful environments.
  • Portfolio – Permanent stable employment with high wages, high income, control over schedule, potential for long work hours, and low potential for harassment.
  • Inflexible skilled – Long term employment, highly paid and well represented through unions, usually a high level of engagement. Mandatory long work hours, low level of harassment.
  • Dead-end – Stable, full time employment with adequate wages but lacks engagement and opportunities for advancement. Long work hours usually required, but little control over schedule. Has representation through unions, but has little empowerment or opportunities for advancement, and often lack of access to needed information or equipment to perform a job. High risk of work place harassment.
  • Precarious – Non-permanent jobs that are not full time. Low wage, low representation and engagement, and no control over work hours. High risk for work place harassment.
  • Optimistic precarious – Much like the Precarious jobs, these positions are non-permanent and part time, however workers have more control over their work schedule and tend to develop interpersonal relationships. Low risk of harassment.

Self-employment was categorized separately in to two groups:

  1. Skilled contractor – High wages, non-standard long and unusual work hours with control over schedule. High engagement and development, low risk of harassment.
  2. Job-to-job – Non-permanent without structure, low wage, low hours. Non-representation but high engagement and control over working hours. Low harassment risk.


Standard workers set the pace by reporting less poor health, less mental health issues and less injuries. Dead-end and precarious workers were the highest category to report poor health, frequent mental health issues, and more occupational injuries. Although their employment terms were the same as precarious workers, optimistic precarious job holders scored the same as standard employment workers in all health markers. Inflexible skilled workers reported worse mental health and higher incidence of occupational injuries than standard workers.

Both categories of self-employed workers scored the same as standard workers for general health. However, both groups of self-employed workers reported more injuries and worse mental health.

The study was authored by UW doctoral student, Assistant Professor Anjum Hajat, Professor Noah Seixas, and co-written by associate professor Brian P. Flaherty, and NIOSH social epidemiologist Kaori Fujishiro, PhD. You can read the full study on The Russell Sage Foundation Journal website.

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