‘Job Strain’ can increase heart problems

Workplace stress is often associated with work overload and with ambitious, thrusting individuals in highly pressurized high-flying environments. Now, a new study by UK researchers has found that those working lower down the pecking order are also at increased risk of heart disease because they are often under just as much pressure but have no control over their work. It is not so much the work overload, but the lack of autonomy which causes ‘job strain’. So it is more common in lower skilled workers – the senior manager who takes the decisions may be less likely to suffer from job strain than someone working on the busy factory production line.

The researchers say “our findings indicate that job strain is associated with a small but consistent increased risk of experiencing a first coronary heart disease event, such as a heart attack.”

Why is control so significant? If a person has a great deal of work to do but has no control about how or when the work is done, can become stressed. For example, someone in the service industry whose pace of work is determined by customers may be unable to take breaks when needed or handle the work as they would wish. Or management may insist that work is done in a certain way between certain times – as on the production line – and this may lead to stress in a particular employee. I think we can all accept that doing things ‘our way’ is more comfortable!

Employers can help by allowing workers more autonomy where possible and avoiding unnecessary restrictions on the timings of breaks for example. Listening to workers’ suggestions about how they can do their work differently may also help. Employers do have a duty to provide a safe place and safe system of work and that includes minimizing stress. It is important to watch for signs of ‘job strain’.

If you have this sort of job and you feel under strain, try talking to managers (easier said than done I know) and remember that activities outside work are important – your social life, exercise, hobbies – all contribute to alleviating stress.
However, the researchers add that the impact of job strain on heart disease is minor compared to smoking, physical inactivity and obesity.

“Job strain as a risk factor for coronary heart disease: a collaborative meta-analysis of individual participant data” The Lancet 14 September 2012.

The above is general comment only. For specific advice contact Sallie Davies, Employment Solicitor at Blocks Solicitors on 01473 230033 orsallie_Davies@blockslegal.co.uk