Occupational health research round-up: July 2016

Being “locked in” to a job that you do not like and unable to leave are detrimental to wellbeing, a study shows

This month’s round-up of occupational health research includes studies on the effect on health of being ‘locked in’ to a job, and depression screening in and OH setting. 

“Locked in” at work and employee wellbeing

Being “locked in” to a job that you do not like, coupled with feelings of being unemployable elsewhere, are detrimental to employee wellbeing, according to this Swedish study of 3,491 employees. Participants in the study who were not locked in at work had better wellbeing measures than those at risk of becoming locked in, who in turn showed better wellbeing than those already locked in. Moving from a locked-in to a non-locked-in status at work was also accompanied by significant improvements in wellbeing, and vice versa, the study shows.

J Stengard et al. “Stuck in a job: being ‘locked in’ or at risk of becoming locked in at the workplace and wellbeing over time”. Work & Stress, vol.30, issue 2, 2016.

Depression screening in the OH setting

Depression and anxiety are significant contributors to sickness absence from work. This US study seeks to assess the frequency of depression at the point when a patient presents at an occupational health practice. Just over 200 patients were screened using a nine item patient health questionnaire, and 30% received a diagnosis of depression. The authors conclude that “screening for depression, with appropriate recognition and referral, may reduce time for employed patients on restricted duties and permanent restrictions”.

RD Newcomb et al. “Screening for depression in the occupational health setting”. Occupational Medicine, published online 6 May 2016.

Workaholism in Irish academics

Workaholism is recognised as a health risk for academics given the open-ended nature of academic work, and this study sought to assess the prevalence of the condition within three Irish universities. It also explored the impact of workaholism on psychological wellbeing, work-life conflict, work-life fit, job satisfaction and perceived work effort. Academics were categorised by workaholism type – for example, 27% were workaholics, 23% were enthusiastic workaholics, 27% were relaxed workers and 23% uninvolved workers. Those academics in the “workaholics” group reported poorer functioning across all product­ivity and wellbeing measures.

V Hogan et al. “A study of workaholism in Irish academics”. Occupational Medicine, published online 21 May 2016.

Customer-perpetrated violence at work

On average, 22% of all violent crimes committed by customers occurred in the workplace. Using data from the Crime Survey of England and Wales, the researchers for this study show that differences in gender, age, managerial level, working hours, employment status and organisation size were significantly related to incidents of work-related violence. The study proposes a theoretical model to help combat customer-perpetrated violence.

JA Edwards and P Buckley. “Customer-perpetrated work-related violence: prevalence and trends in Britain”. Occupational Medicine, published online 10 May 2016.

Age-related cognitive decline and working conditions

According to the “use-it-or-lose-it” hypothesis, intellectually stimulating activities postpone age-related cognitive decline. This systematic review finds that high levels of mental demands at work and occupational complexity are associated with higher levels of cognitive function in mid- or late-life. However, it does not find sufficiently strong evidence that these psychosocial work factors also affect changes in cognition and, in particular, cognitive decline in mid or later life.

M Andersen Nexo et al. “Can psychosocial work conditions protect against age-related cognitive decline? Results from a systematic review”. Occupational & Environmental Medicine, published online 13 May 2016.

Work anxiety and work ability

Patients with high levels of work-related anxiety report more negative workplace characteristics. Further, low employee judgements of work ability are correlated with problematic workplace characteristics, this study of 125 patients in medical rehabilitation suggests. It concludes that patients with high work anxiety may over-report negative workplace characteristics that, in turn, confound their own and care providers’ estimates of work ability.

In practice: assessing levels of work anxiety may be important in assessing readiness for return to work and designing work-based treatments.

B Muschalla. “Is it a case of ‘work anxiety’ when patients report bad workplace characteristics and low work ability?”. Journal of Occupational Rehabilitation, published online 18 April 2016.

COPD and work productivity

A diagnosis of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), particularly if the condition is severe, negatively impacts work productivity, this study of US adults aged 40 or over concludes. The study of more than 60,000 participants in a US national health and wellness survey finds that 4.1% have a diagnosis of COPD and that the presence of the condition, and its increasing severity, is associated with higher impairment at work, lower health-related quality of life, and greater use of healthcare services.

AD Dhamane et al. “Associations between COPD severity and work productivity, health-related quality of life and healthcare resource use: a cross-sectional analysis of national survey data”. Journal of Occupational & Environmental Medicine, published online 18 May 2016.

Psychosocial working conditions and suicide ideation

Workplace bullying or harassment is associated with a one-and-a-half times greater risk of suicide ideation among staff, according to this study assessing risk factors for thoughts of suicide. The results, based on an Australian survey, also suggest that higher job control and security at work are associated with lower odds of suicidal thoughts.

A Milner et al. “Psychosocial working conditions and suicide ideation: evidence from a cross-sectional survey of working Australians”. Journal of Occupational & Environmental Medicine, published online 18 May 2016.

Sickness absence and musculoskeletal disorders

Women have longer episodes of sickness absence due to non-work-related musculoskeletal disorders than men, according to this study of Californian workers’ absence between 2005 and 2008. However, older women have shorter absences than their younger female colleagues due to the condition. According to the authors, these findings “could be explained by gender differences in the interaction between paid work and family demands”, highlighting the need for more research into the gender differences in patterns of absence from work.

MM Arcas et al. “Gender differences in the duration of non-work-related sickness absence episodes due to musculoskeletal disorders”. Journal of Epidemiology & Community Health, published online 13 May 2016.

Fairness at work and employee health

Perceptions of fairness at work are a crucial aspect of the psychological work environment, and changes towards greater fairness can improve employees’ health, this study of 5,800 Swedish workers finds.

C Leineweber et al. “The influence of procedural justice and change in procedural justice on self-rated health trajectories: results from the Swedish Longitudinal Occupational Survey of Health”. Scandinavian Journal of Work, Environment and Health

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