Isn't stress just part of any job?

Stress is a normal part of any life, and any job. Stress can be positive or negative, and how people react to various stressors is highly individual. But excessive negative stress (or distress) can contribute to or even cause serious health problems for employees.

Excessive job stress can be caused by many factors, but research over the past 15 years has shown that some stressors are worse than others:

  1. Jobs that are highly demanding because they involve constant imposed deadlines over prolonged period, and provide the individual with very little control over the day to day organization of their work (high demand/low control jobs).
    • Jobs with high demand and low control, can lead to more than double the rate of heart and cardiovascular problems. They also lead to significantly higher rates of anxiety, depression, and demoralization.
    • High demand and low control jobs also lead to significantly higher alcohol, prescription and over-the-counter drug use, and a significantly higher susceptibility to infectious diseases—which in turn lead to increased disability claims.
  2. Jobs that require high physical or mental effort but offer little reward in the way of compensation, status, financial gain or career enhancement (high effort/low reward jobs).
    • Jobs that require high effort but offer little reward are associated with triple the rate of cardiovascular problems.
    • These jobs result in significantly higher rates of depression, anxiety, and conflict-related problems.
  3. An accumulation of home stress and job stress affect overall wellness.
    • A 2002 Finnish study that followed 812 employees who were employed for 25 years at one company found that the risk of death from heart disease doubled under high demand/low control and high effort/low reward circumstances. The same factors were also linked to high cholesterol and body mass index.
    • High demand/low control conditions, combined with high effort/low reward conditions, are associated with higher incidence of back pain (up to three times the rate of high control/high reward conditions) and repetitive stress injuries (excess rates of up to 150% have been reported.)
    • People experiencing high demand/low control combined with high effort/low reward conditions, along with more general workplace stressors, had over five times the normal rate of colorectal cancer.
    • Distress can lead to accidents on the job, directly and indirectly.
    • Distress can increase conflict amongst co-workers.

The health of workers doesn’t have to be compromised by stress, however. Changes to the organization of work can make for a more mentally healthy workplace, especially when employees feel adequately rewarded and under greater control of their work.

Sources:

  • Best Advice on Stress Risk Management in the Workplace. Ottawa: Health Canada, 2000.
  • Kavimaki et al. Work stress and risk of cardiovascular mortality: prospective cohort study of industrial employees. British Medical Journal 2002; 325:857 (19 October).

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