A study found working in a stressful job for insufficient reward had similar ill-effects on heart health to obesity.
If you’re working hard for little reward in your job, it’s not just low job satisfaction you might need to worry about.
New research suggests that men who work hard in stressful jobs while receiving insufficient reward for their efforts may be at up to double the risk for heart disease compared to men who don’t have those stresses.
Publishing the findings in the peer-reviewed American Heart Association journal Circulation: Cardiovascular Quality and Outcomes, the researchers point out that previous research has shown that job strain and effort-reward imbalance can increase heart disease risk, but the combined effects haven’t been studied in detail.
“Considering the significant amount of time people spend at work, understanding the relationship between work stressors and cardiovascular health is crucial for public health and workforce well-being,” said lead study author Mathilde Lavigne-Robichaud, a doctoral candidate at the CHU de Quebec-University Laval Research Center in Quebec, Canada.
“Our study highlights the pressing need to proactively address stressful working conditions, to create healthier work environments that benefit employees and employers”.
The latest available data from the European Heart Network shows cardiovascular disease is the main cause of death in men in all but 12 countries in Europe, accounting for around 3.9 million deaths in the continent. In the US meanwhile, it is the primary cause of death according to the American Heart Association.
The researchers looked at nearly 6,500 white-collar workers with an average age of 45, who didn’t already have heart disease. They followed 3,118 men and 3,347 women from 2000 to 2018. Studying health and workplace survey information from the workers, they measured job strain and effort-reward imbalance.
Men who reported experiencing either job strain or effort-reward imbalance were found to have a 49 per cent increased risk of heart disease compared to those that didn’t have those problems. The men who reported both stressful jobs and lack of reward were at twice the risk of heart disease compared to those who didn’t have the combined stressors.
This impact was found to be similar to that of obesity on the risk of coronary heart disease.
It was inconclusive, however, whether or not these stressors at work affected women’s heart health.
‘Stress factors associated with other health issues’
“Job strain refers to work environments where employees face a combination of high job demands and low control over their work. High demands can include a heavy workload, tight deadlines and numerous responsibilities, while low control means the employee has little say in decision-making and how they perform their tasks,” Lavigne-Robichaud explained.
“Effort-reward imbalance occurs when employees invest high effort into their work, but they perceive the rewards they receive in return — such as salary, recognition or job security — as insufficient or unequal to the effort.
“For instance, if you’re always going above and beyond, but you feel like you’re not getting the credit or rewards you deserve, that’s called effort-reward imbalance.”
One of the limitations of the study is that the workers were primarily based in Quebec, Canada, so may not represent the diversity of experiences in the North American working population.
“Our results suggest that interventions aimed at reducing stressors from the work environment could be particularly effective for men and could also have positive implications for women, as these stress factors are associated with other prevalent health issues such as depression,” Lavigne-Robichaud said.
The inconclusive nature of the results for women show the need for further investigation, she added.
She recommended interventions such as providing support resources, promoting work-life balance, enhancing communication, and empowering employees to have more control over their work.