Why do we get stressed at work?
“Stress is really a topical issue and there is a great interest among the general public for this type of questions. Most people can relate to it and recognize it in their everyday lives”, says Eleonor Fransson.
Eleonor Fransson is Associate Professor of epidemiology at the School of Health and Welfare. Her research focuses on how different environmental factors influence our health, and in particular how we are affected by work-related stress.
“There are previous studies that have shown that those with a stressful job run a greater risk of developing cardiovascular disease, diabetes, or depression. But they also rate their own health as poorer than those who do not have a stressful job. We have also seen that a stressful job situation means that you exercise less. Stress can affect our lifestyle and you may not always have the time or energy to eat well and exercise”, says Eleonor Fransson.
Demand and control
One of the most established ways to try to measure work-related stress is the demand-control model. Demand refers to if a person has enough time to perform their duties, if they have to work in a fast pace and experience conflicting demands in their work situation. Control is the combined measure of, among other things, if the person can control what to do and how to do it.
High levels of both demand and control is considered a stimulating work situation, but can be bad for you if you never get time to recover. The combination of high demands and low control, however, is the combination thought to generate the most stress.
“In our studies, we have among other things seen that work-related stress, specifically in the form of high demands and low control, means an increased risk of heart attack. We have also seen a correlation between high demand and low control and an increased risk of stroke in the form of a blood clot in the brain. However, we have not seen any relationship to cancer, and that is also an important result”, explains Eleonor Fransson.
Reward and effort
The demand-control model is just one way of trying to understand work-related stress. Another model is the effort-reward imbalance, which describes if there is an imbalance between the effort a person puts into the job and the reward that person gets back, for example in the form of pay, recognition from superiors and colleagues, and the opportunity to advance in their job.
A precarious employment with the risk of being denounced is another indicator of a stressful situation at work.
Eleonor Fransson also has an ongoing project with, among others, PhD student Magdalena Stadin about how stress related to IT use at work can affect health.
Possibility to recover
What really affects someone’s health is if there are long periods of stress without any chance of recovery.
“This is where the employer and the work organization play a big part. There must be a dialogue between employers and employees, and it is necessary to educate managers at various levels of the organization. We have successfully improved the physical work environment, and now we need to put more focus on the psychosocial work environment. The ambition for us researchers is that our results will have an impact on society and the improvement of the work environment. That we will be able spread the knowledge of our results so that they ultimately can be used in the prevention of work-related stress”, says Eleonor Fransson.