WLEI - Lean Enterprise Institute’s Podcast

Dying for a Paycheck? Must work be toxic for employees, and how can a more sustainable approach emerge?

December 16, 2019

In his new book Dying for A Paycheck, Stanford University Graduate School of Business Professor Jeffrey Pfeffer argues that there is an overwhelmingly compelling case to be made that the workplace profoundly affects human health and wellbeing, and that these psychosocial stressors have gotten worse in recent years. His book vividly details how the costs are enormous to both individuals and to companies and to society. He believes that If we're going to address this, we need to see the problem and its enormous scope. In this podcast Pfeffer shares thoughts with LEI editor Tom Ehrenfeld on potential countermeasures to this problem. 

Some key points:

 Good work starts with good job design. “The companies that are really going to solve the problem of unsafe work, just as they've done for physical safety, have to begin by thinking about every aspect of the job and job design. And that's where I think there is a great deal of compatibility between the principles of Lean and what I'm talking about. This begins with basically redesigning the work, and eliminating the stuff that is harmful, unnecessary, and stressful.”

Lean principles can help transform the design of work for more humane practice. “We have to be willing to redesign the psychosocial aspects of work if we're going to make it psychologically healthier and less stressful,” says Pfeffer. “Just as we've redesigned the physical equipment to make work environments safer, we have to be willing to redesign the psychosocial aspects of work if we're going to make it psychologically healthier and less stressful.

Tackling this problem requires acknowledging toxic work as a challenge to address. “I think we need to make human life and human wellbeing at least as important as economic outcomes. What does it profit us to have a fabulously high GDP if life expectancy is diminishing? What does it profit us as a society to have high stock market with a suicide rate that's up 70% in the last eight or nine years with widespread depression? We need a much broader definition of what success looks like.”