‘Dying for a Paycheck’: A Book Review

Today, I share some learnings from and review of the book, ‘Dying for a Paycheck.’

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A few months ago, I came across this recently published book that seemed extremely relevant for Workr Beeing! Today, I share some learnings from the book and my thoughts with you.

Jeffrey Pfeffer is an accomplished professor at The Graduate School of Business at Stanford who recently published a book called “Dying for a Paycheck: How Modern Management Harms Employee Health and Company Performance – and What We Can Do About It.” The book discusses how bad workplace environments hurt employee engagement, company performance, and, most importantly, employee health and well-being. Below, I summarize some takeaways and end with a quick review.

Negative Work Environments Kill People

As the title of the book indicates, bad work environments can actually have MAJOR health impacts on employees. The statistics shared in this book are incredibly compelling. I really hope that this book can open some eyes to the seriousness of the issue. The author estimates that work environments are the 5th leading cause of deaths in the U.S., approximately 120,000 deaths a year. These deaths include things like heart attacks and suicides that are directly related to something happening in the work environment.

How about instead of prescribing meds for illness caused by toxic workplaces, we fix the workplaces?

In addition, workplace stressors cause a variety of physical and mental health issues that are extremely expensive in lost productivity and healthcare costs. Stress-inducing work environments cost an estimated $190 billion dollars in excess healthcare expenses. Worse, a lot of these expenses, illnesses, and deaths are preventable. We, in the U.S., aren’t doing much about it!

Workplace Issues Causing the Most Problems

The author outlines a number of different problems with workplaces that impact employee health and well-being. These include things we’ve talked about often in previous articles like job control, support (friends) at work, and work-life balance. However, he does focus on two that we haven’t talked much about that I found very interesting: Layoffs and Health Insurance.


Layoffs are actually bad for everyone involved – not just those laid off. Managers who have to lay employees off have more health problems following the layoffs. Coworkers are also impacted. They feel less secure in their jobs and often have a higher workload due to the ‘leaner’ staffing situation, leading to stress and impacts on health.

Of course, those that lose their jobs suffer the most from the stress associated with looking for new jobs, loss of income, and emotional reactions to the lay off. The odds of having a heart attack increases in the months following a layoff. People that are laid off sometimes see the negative impact on their health even after getting a new job. Unfortunately, layoffs also lead to workplace violence.

The crazy thing is companies don’t often do much better after layoffs. One leader was quoted in the book saying that recovering from the impact of a layoff took them 2 years and they would have been better off making a different decision! Layoffs can cost a lot – including things like severance pay, loss in productivity and engagement of employees that survived, and rehiring when the business begins to do better. Most companies do not look at the data to really understand that layoffs are not a great decision for the company health and for the health of the people they employ and lay off.

If you are a leader, consider other methods to improve your business before choosing layoffs! Layoffs don’t make anyone happy.

Health Insurance

Employers in the U.S. have a lot of control over employee well-being partially because they can provide access to health insurance. A lack of health insurance is a huge factor that impacts a person’s overall health and well-being. Many employers try to cut cost around insurance by either not providing it or not providing good options.

When employees are uninsured, they are more likely to suffer from preventable health issues because they do not get regular screenings. They are also more likely to face bankruptcy and other financial strains when faced with a serious health problem. These various health issues actually hurt the company as well. Employees may quit when faced with difficult health issues. If they stay, they are likely to be less engaged and productive since they are focusing on their health concerns. If these health issues were prevented in the first place by providing coverage, the company would not suffer the cost to replacing those employees or losing productivity.

Some companies have begun providing clinics and doctors onsite. Most often, these clinics and doctor’s appointments are free of charge to the employee and their families. Businesses with these types of programs see an overall reduction in healthcare cost and improvement in employee health. The clinics encourage employees to take preventative measures to stay healthy instead of having to deal with worse problems in the future.

Health insurance is often a benefit that is scrutinized and cut to help save companies money. However, the research actually supports providing better healthcare benefits to maintain employee health and productivity.

Employees aren’t robots! They need to take care of their health in order to function well in all aspects of their lives, including work!

Concluding Thoughts

Overall, I thought this book had some really interesting insights. The author did a good job summarizing some of the research we’ve already highlighted on this website. If you are interested in the topics we discuss, you will enjoy this book. I think it’s a pretty quick and easy read. The most impactful parts for me were the statistics around the costs and health impacts of toxic work environments.

The one thing missing, in my opinion, was more detail around what people can actively do to improve their own workplace. There were only a couple of thoughts around this – so I think our articles can help supplement your knowledge around actionable tips. The book did talk more about what companies should be doing and what policies should be made. I completely agree with his suggestions around policy. If you are into that or can impact public policy, you should definitely check it out!

I hope you enjoyed this mini book review! If you enjoyed this article, let us know! Do you want to see more book reviews? What books would you like us to review? Leave us a comment below!


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