The inside front leaf of this book states that “61% of employees said that workplace stress had made them sick … 7% said they had … been hospitalized … In China, one million people a year may be dying from overwork … And it needs to stop.” While reading this book, these statistics — and others like them — kept echoing through my mind. How did we, a supposedly intelligent species, create this notion of work that is so detrimental and so unhealthy? In my mind, work should be where your purpose and strengths meet the needs of the world and society. How did it get so toxic? Pfeffer explores the history of management, how we got here, and where we could go next to increase healthy outcomes, while still being productive and contributing to global well-being. While some of the statistics and issues are focused on the U.S. (lack of health insurance, growing income inequality), it would be erroneous to believe that Canada is exempt. Where the U.S. goes, Canada tends to follow, especially when it comes to business.
Pfeffer spends about the first two-thirds of the book making his case that modern management harms employee health and company performance, and then a couple of chapters talking about what could be done. For example, Pfeffer indicates that “two critical elements” of a healthy workplace are autonomy and social support. These nicely mirror theories of motivation and needs, like self-determination theory, which posit that fundamental drivers of human behaviour include autonomy and relatedness. Bringing more of this research into the workplace would indeed help people thrive and reduce health-related costs for businesses. Seems like a win-win. This is a very thought-provoking book, although a little depressing and fatalistic at times. Let’s hope that new thinking and research triumphs, so that more companies can do good by doing well.