example, junior officers have little power and often aren’t
willing to share their concerns with superiors.
Noblet and colleagues tested several strategies for increasing
two-way communication while planning, implementing and
evaluating an intervention designed to prevent job stress in an
Australian police department. The researchers used interviews,
focus groups and anonymous surveys to assess junior officers’
views about what was causing their workplace stress. They then
used that information to create the intervention, which focused
on leadership development and workload management.
An evaluation of the intervention process allowed the
organizers to further fine-tune the intervention, which had only
modestly reduced junior officers’ job stress in the first round. If
participants hadn’t been willing to share their thoughts about
the intervention and how it was conducted, say the researchers,
the intervention could have been deemed a failure. Instead, that
honest feedback revealed that the intervention just needed a few
tweaks to make it successful.
Researchers at the symposium also presented a new way to
gauge the success of workplace interventions. The “Corporate
Health Index,” developed by Georg F. Bauer, MD, DrPh, and
colleagues at the University of Zurich, gives organizations a
convenient way to assess employees’ stress and health.
The researchers create a ratio for each organization based
on employees’ job demands, such as unclear job roles, time
pressure and social conflict, and their job resources, such as
decision-making ability, good social support and recognition
of work well done. The researchers have found that health and
productivity measures increase in step with increases in the
Corporate Health Index.
“It’s very attractive for companies to see this one number,”
says Bauer, who directs the public and organizational health
division in the university’s Epidemiology, Biostatistics and
Prevention Institute. “It makes it very easy to make a first initial
assessment of the health situation in a company, then use it to
compare to their own benchmark or other companies.”
The Swiss railroad system now uses the index as a key
performance indicator alongside such measures as the punctuality
of its trains and number of people transported each day.
Job stress and burnout
Other sessions at the conference focused on the intersections of
work, stress and health.
Researchers have long known that job stress can lead to such
physical and mental health problems as heart disease, anxiety
and depression, musculoskeletal injuries and accidents, for
example. It can also lead to burnout, which is itself associated
with psychological distress, physical problems and unhealthy
behaviors. But just how common — and dangerous — are job
stress and burnout?
In an analysis of data from the 2002, 2006 and 2010 NIOSH
Quality of Worklife survey, NIOSH research psychologist
Rashaun Roberts, PhD, and colleagues found that while workers
in all three waves of data reported moderate job stress and
burnout, there were significant variations by industrial sector
and job type.
Health-care workers, for example, reported more job stress
than those in other industries. Along with construction workers,
they also suffered significantly higher burnout — feeling
emotionally exhausted, having a sense of depersonalization
and no longer experiencing a sense of accomplishment.
Regular, permanent employees experienced more stress and
burnout than those in other arrangements, such as freelancers,
temps and on-call employees, while supervisors and full-time
employees fared worse than nonsupervisors and part-timers.
The self-employed reported lower stress and burnout than their
more traditionally employed peers.
No matter what the job, Roberts’s analysis found, workers
who reported high levels of stress and burnout also reported
having worse health than their less-stressed counterparts.
Flextime and health behaviors
You might think flextime could help employees fight stress
and stay healthy, says Eric J. Faurote, PhD. But flextime doesn’t
seem to improve the health habits of women experiencing high
levels of conflict between their work and family roles, Faurote
found in research that was part of his graduate studies at the
University of Nebraska Omaha.
In an analysis of 302 women workers, Faurote and colleagues
examined the impact of flextime during periods of high work-family conflict, when work responsibilities interfere with family
responsibilities and activities. The researchers found that
during periods of high work-family conflict, women with a lot
of flextime actually decreased the amount of time they spent
exercising, while women with less flextime maintained their
exercise regimens. They also found that flextime had no effect
on the women’s reliance on restaurant meals, prepared foods
and other unhealthy eating options. Instead of taking advantage
of flexible scheduling to improve their health, says Faurote,
women may be using it to address their children’s needs.
Even with flextime, concludes Faurote, “work-family
conflicts continue to have very detrimental effects on women’s
health.” Instead of relying solely on flextime, he says, employers
could consider treadmill desks, standing work stations, walking
meetings and other strategies to increase physical activity
during the work day. If they have on-site food services, they
might also offer healthy dinners that employees can pick up as
they head home.
Research by Deanna K. Burns, a graduate student in
industrial-organizational psychology at Clemson University,
also supports the idea that flextime alone isn’t enough to help
employees overcome the negative effects of work-life conflict
and that organizations should offer a combination of resources.
In a study of 597 workers, Burns and colleagues examined
the relationship between income and work-family conflict.
As income increases, they found, so does the availability of