Occupational health research round-up March 2016

occupational health research

This month’s look at recent occupational health research covers reports on detaching from work at the end of the working day, and the link between transformational leadership and job strain.

Work detachment

Enabling people to recover effectively at the end of the working day, and it is vital to psychological wellbeing. However, employees’ minds often linger on goal-related content after the day is finished, particularly if a goal is left incomplete. Longitudinal research covering a sample of 103 employees pursuing 1,127 work targets suggests that creating plans to resolve incomplete goals can increase psychological detachment among employees who find it particularly difficult to “turn off”.

In practice: creating plans at the end of the day that describe where, when and how unfilled work goals will be completed is an effective, low-cost intervention, particularly if targeted at specific groups of employees. In setting daily goals, employees should be encouraged to focus on smaller, concrete aims in order to reduce the risk of these going unfulfilled.

Smit BW. “Successfully leaving work at work: the self-regulatory underpinnings of psychological detachment”. Journal of Occupational and Organizational Psychology, first published online 12 November 2015.

Transformational leadership and job strain

Transformational leadership is linked to higher employee engagement and proactivity at work, but only if it is mediated by low job strain, a study of 148 employee-manager relationships finds. Organisations need to minimise sources of stress that otherwise could prevent work engagement translating into proactivity, the authors conclude.

“This can be achieved, for instance, through training interventions based on a cognitive-behavioural approach and through organisational interventions aimed at increasing employees’ job autonomy and decision-making, as well as the implementation of rest periods,” they suggest.

In practice: transformational leadership skills in line managers should be developed in order to boost engagement and proactivity. These might include education, training and coaching programmes based on action-oriented methods and aimed at fostering self-reflection among first line managers.

Schmitt A et al. “Transformational leadership and proactive work behaviour: a moderated mediation model including work engagement and job strain”. Journal of Occupational and Organizational Psychology, first published online 20 January 2016.

Employee wellbeing, age and job change

The level of employee wellbeing (as measured by burnout, engagement and job satisfaction) is generally high, but is not fixed and varies over time, according to a systematic longitudinal review. Age and change of job are the major factors influencing wellbeing; younger employees and job changers tend to display larger variations in wellbeing over time than older employees and job stayers.

Makikangas A et al. “The longitudinal development of employee wellbeing: a systematic review”. Work & Stress, first published online 12 January 2016.

Disclosing mental health problems at work

Employees who seek treatment for a mental health problem at work are not perceived adversely by others, a study suggests. Indeed, the results of the research suggest that employees who seek treatment are rated as more resilient as a result of doing so. A study explores how getting help for mental health problems can be presented as a form of self-care that can have positive consequences.

Skye K et al. “Employee mental health treatment seeking: perceptions of responsibility and resilience”. Journal of Workplace Behavioral Health, vol.31, issue 1, 2016.

Health promotion

Relocating to an “active design” building appears to have physical health-promoting effects on workers, although employee perceptions about the new working environment vary, a study of Australian university employees finds. After the office move, participants spent less work time sitting down and more time standing, although walking time remained unchanged.

Employees perceived the new environment as more stimulating, better lit and ventilated, but noisier and providing less storage.

Engelen L et al. “Do active design buildings change health behaviour and workplace perceptions?” Occupational Medicine, first published online 14 January 2016.

Work as treatment?

Moving from unemployment into work as a result of taking part in a vocational reintegration scheme has only a modest positive effect on an individual’s health and quality of life, a review and meta-analysis suggests. Further, no evidence is found that re-employment programmes have any effect on functioning and mental health. The analysis included 16 studies presenting mental health, functioning or quality of life as an outcome measure.

Van Rijn RM et al. “Work as treatment? The effectiveness of re-employment programmes for unemployed persons with severe mental health problems on health and quality of life: a systematic review and meta-analysis.” Occupational & Environmental Medicine, first published online 6 January 2016.

Injuries and job loss

Despite regulatory protections, an employee suffering an injury at work is at greater risk of voluntary or involuntary job loss than other workers, a study of nursing home staff concludes. More than 1,000 workers were tracked over an 18-month period; by 12 months, around 30% had experienced an occupational injury and, after 18 months, 24.2% had lost their job. Injured workers were just over twice as likely to experience involuntary job loss compared with uninjured staff, the study suggests.

Okechukwu CA et al. “Marginal structural modelling of associations of occupational injuries with voluntary and involuntary job loss among nursing home workers”. Occupational & Environmental Medicine, first published online 19 January 2016.

Persistent pain

Maintaining productive employment while experiencing persistent pain is challenging, a study based on semi-structured interviews finds. Three key themes were identified: barriers to working productively; enablers to working productively; and disclosing a health condition to the employer. Working for a supportive employer is a key determinant of staying productive at work, the authors find, as is flexibility in the work organisation.

Workplace adaptations can help improve jobs fit for an employee working with pain, but this requires the condition to be disclosed in the first place, which is often difficult. Weighing up the risks and benefits of disclosing a painful condition to the employer is complex, although it may be encouraged if employees are aware of any available support to help work retention, the study concludes.

Oakman J, Kinsman N and Briggs AM. “Working with persistent pain: an exploration of strategies utilised to stay productive at work”. Journal of Occupational Rehabilitation, first published online 22 January 2016.

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