Men in stressful jobs who feel under-appreciated are twice as likely to develop heart disease, warns a new study.
The combined effects are as bad for a man’s health as obesity or passive smoking, say scientists.
Researchers followed more than 6,000 white-collar workers, with an average age of 45, for 18 years, from 2000 to 2018.
They studied health and workplace survey information for 3,118 men and 3,347 women in a range of jobs in Quebec, Canada.
The study included people working in senior management, professional, technical and office workers roles.
Researchers measured job strain and effort-reward imbalance with results from proven questionnaires and retrieved heart disease information using established health databases.
They found that men who say they suffer from work stress and also feel they exert high efforts for low reward were at double the risk of heart disease compared to men free of such stresses.
The impact of job strain and effort-reward imbalance combined was similar to the magnitude of the impact of obesity on the risk of coronary heart disease for men, say scientists.
But results on how work stress affects women’s heart health were inconclusive, according to the findings published in the journal Circulation: Cardiovascular Quality and Outcomes.
Lead author Mathilde Lavigne-Robichaud said: “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.
“Our study highlights the pressing need to proactively address stressful working conditions, to create healthier work environments that benefit employees and employers.”
Previous research has shown that two psycho-social stressors – job strain and effort-reward imbalance at work – may increase heart disease risk. But few studies have examined the combined effect.
Doctoral candidate Lavigne-Robichaud, of Université Laval in Quebec, said: “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.
“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.”
The study found that men who said they experienced either job strain or effort-reward imbalance had a 49 percent increase in the risk of heart disease compared to men who didn’t report those stresses.
Men reporting both job strain and effort-reward imbalance were at double the risk of heart disease compared with men who did not say they were experiencing the combined stressors.
The impact of job strain and effort-reward imbalance combined in men was similar to the magnitude of the impact of obesity on the risk of coronary heart disease.
Lavigne-Robichaud added. “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.
“The study’s inability to establish a direct link between psychosocial job stressors and coronary heart disease in women signals the need for further investigation into the complex interplay of various stressors and women’s heart health.”
She said interventions might include different approaches, such as providing support resources, promoting work-life balance, enhancing communication and empowering employees to have more say over their work.
The findings were welcomed by Dr Eduardo Sanchez, chief medical officer for prevention at the American Heart Association, who said workplace stress “can be as harmful to health as obesity and second-hand smoke.”
He added: “This study adds to the growing body of evidence that the workplace should be prioritised as a vehicle for advancing cardiovascular health for all.”
Produced in association with SWNS Talker