Tuesday, June 3, 2008

Supervisors: Job Strain versus Job Stress

Q. One of my employees has returned to work following a heart attack. Is there anything I can do to help him not have another one? This is a pretty high stress environment. Should I talk him into reducing his hours? I don’t want to him to collapse here.

A. Your employee should let you know if he needs any help from the organization to support his recovery, but you can also ask how best to support him. Almost all jobs include stress. Beyond stress, is something called "job strain." Job strain is high psychological demand from work pressure combined with little ability to control it. (Feeling trapped like a rat is a good way to describe it.) Some research has shown job strain as a factor in the recurrence of heart attacks. In Japan, the word "karoshi" means "death from work." It is a widely studied social concern. To reduce job strain on employees, try reducing psychological pressure of work demands. If possible, increase the employee's control and decision making over those work demands. What about the long hours? In some studies, long work hours alone were not associated with recurrent cardiovascular events, only job strain. (Journal of Occupational Health, No. 45, 2005.)