Obtaining of reliable information on the effects of psychosocial work-related factors on chronic diseases, disability and mortality in specific employee groups, such as those with low income job, pre-existing disease or risk behaviours, as well as those with healthy lifestyles and favourable work organisation, defined by positive and supporting leadership.
Pursuing this aim with a consortium of major European cohort studies from Finland, Sweden, Denmark, Germany, France and the UK (total n = 140.000).
Building an unique empirical resource to develop new evidence based policies that address what kind of psychosocial factors, for whom, and in what circumstances increase disease risk.
A total of 17 European cohort studies participated in the consortium and provided information on up to 200.000 participants. Until now the measurement of psychosocial work stress focussed on high demands in combination with low control at work (also known as "job strain"). This measurement is based on the demand/control model, an internationally established theoretical model of work stress.
Summary of main results:
People who report job strain are at higher risk to develop a serious coronary heart disease by approximately 23 - 31%. This holds true for both men and women, younger and older employees and for people with high and low socioeconomic positions. The prevention of stress at work may decrease disease incidence for all groups of employees.
Job strain is also associated with an increased risk of type 2 diabetes irrespective of lifestyle factors. This finding suggests that prevention of stress at work may decrease diabetes burden.
Job strain appears to increase the likelihood of both weight gain and weight loss. As a consequence, job strain is more common among obese and underweight employees compared to their normal weight counterparts. Analysis of longitudinal data shows that an increase in job strain is accompanied by an increase in obesity risk. However, we found no relation between a decrease in job strain and a reduction in obesity.
Physically active employees are less likely to report prospectively stress at work compared to physically inactive people. This suggests that physical activity may reduce the probability to report stress at work.
Stress at work is linked to a number of health-risk behaviours (obesity, smoking, heavy alcohol consumption, physical inactivity). This suggests that stress at work may increase the risk of an unhealthy lifestyle.
Given the observed associations between various dimensions of psychosocial stress at work and common chronic conditions, our findings suggest that it is important to improve psychosocial work environments.
Work-related psychosocial factors, indexed as job strain, are unlikely to be an important risk factor for common cancers, such as lung, breast, colorectal and prostate cancers.
Outlook: In addition to further analyses based on the demand-control model, it is planned to investigate alternative measures of work stress. To this aim, we first analysed the association between job insecurity and coronary heart disease. The results showed an increased disease risk for people experiencing job insecurity. Further, we published an article about the operationalization of another important work stress model, namely the effort-reward-imbalance model. In a next step we will analyse if persons with certain predispositions (e.g. hypertension) have higher disease risks if they report high effort-reward imbalance.