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Journal article

Worker health is good for the economy: Union density and psychosocial safety climate as determinants of country differences in worker health and productivity in 31 European countries

15 Sep 2013

Work stress is recognized globally as a social determinant of worker health. Therefore we explored whether work stress related factors explained national differences in health and productivity (gross domestic product (GDP)). We proposed a national worker health productivity model whereby macro market power factors (i.e. union density), influence national worker health and GDP via work psychosocial factors and income inequality. We combined five different data sets canvasing 31 wealthy European countries. Aggregated worker self-reported health accounted for 13 per cent of the variance in national life expectancy and in national gross domestic product (GDP). The most important factors explaining worker self-reported health and GDP between nations were two levels of labor protection, macro-level (union density), and organizational-level (psychosocial safety climate, PSC, i.e. the extent of management concern for worker psychological health). The majority of countries with the highest levels of union density and PSC (i.e., workplace protections) were Social Democratic in nature (i.e., Sweden, Finland, Denmark, Norway). Results support a type of society explanation that social and economic factors (e.g., welfare regimes, work related policies) in concert with political power agents at a national level explain in part national differences in workplace protection (PSC) that are important for worker health and productivity. Attention should be given across all countries, to national policies to improve worker health, by bolstering national and local democratic processes and representation to address and implement policies for psychosocial risk factors for work stress, bullying and violence. Results suggest worker health is good for the economy, and should be considered in national health and productivity accounting. Eroding unionism may not be good for worker health or the economy either.

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