worker tired

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WASHINGTON — Our careers can make or break us. Regardless of your job, most people can agree that going to work every day takes a toll — whether from stress, exhaustion, or from putting on those dreaded arch-crumbling work shoes day-in and day-out. For those whose income is based on tips or freelance gigs, researchers say pay insecurity can negatively impact your well-being. A new study reveals that part-time, commission, and contracted workers suffer worse health than those on a fixed income.

Gig workers, waiters, salespeople, and others who rely on fluctuating income reported that they suffered from poor sleep quality, headaches, stomach issues and back pain. This was also the case with people who rely on tips, according to researchers working with the American Psychological Association.

“Pay volatility seems to predict worse health outcomes across a wide range of incomes,” says author of the study Dr. Gordon Sayre, an assistant professor of organizational behavior at Emlyon Business School in France, in a media release. “Not only was pay volatility related to worse health in lower-paid tipped jobs or among freelancers in the gig economy but for higher-paid professionals working in finance, sales and marketing where commissions and performance bonuses are common.”

How does income impact your health?

The researchers undertook three studies spanning several industries. In one study, 85 workers who relied on tips — including waiters, delivery drivers, and maids — answered daily online surveys for two weeks about their total daily pay and health.

They reported receiving tips on 80 percent of their workdays, with an average daily tip total of $36.18. This accounted for a quarter of their total income on average. Large fluctuations of daily pay over the two weeks displayed a link to negative physical health symptoms and poor sleep quality. That relationship was stronger when irregular pay made up a larger percentage of a worker’s total pay.

Another study looked at 375 participants. Each person spent an average of 29 hours per week working on Amazon’s Mechanical Turk, a website where gig workers can do various tasks for minimal amounts of pay. They completed weekly surveys for three weeks. The findings were similar to the study on employees who work for tips.

The team also conducted an online survey with 252 higher-income employees in finance, marketing, and sales who rely on commissions or bonuses for a smaller fraction of their income. They completed monthly surveys for three months. Even though it had a small effect, it wasn’t as harmful to their health since they were less reliant on these commissions or bonuses.

The researchers also looked into mindfulness, as it has been shown to buffer against stress in other aspects of work and life. The participants’ mindfulness was measured but the team found that it didn’t help reduce the physical symptoms linked to irregular pay.

How can businesses improve employee health?

The study questions whether types of pay such as tips, piece-rate work, and performance bonuses are necessary. They suggest that businesses should ensure more stable forms of payment make up a larger proportion of a workers’ total income.

“Unions are another way that workers could secure stronger protections against volatile pay,” says Dr. Sayre. “Raising the proportion of base pay and reducing dependence on volatile pay should help protect workers’ health in many industries.”

While the study cannot prove that volatile payment systems can have a direct negative impact on a person’s health, it does show that there is a definite link between them.

The study is published in the Journal of Applied Psychology.

South West News Service writer Alice Clifford contributed to this report.

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