Occupational health research round-up: March 2017

Employees with high emotional intelligence have higher job satisfaction as they can reduce negative feelings, a study finds

This month’s look at recent occupational health research includes studies on emotional intelligence at work and the different effects of spousal loss on male and female employees. 

Emotional intelligence and employee wellbeing

Employees with relatively high levels of emotional intelligence have higher job satisfaction because they are better able to reduce negative feelings and, conversely, boost positive ones, according to this meta-analysis. Workers in this group also have higher levels of organisational commitment and are less likely to state that they wish to leave their employer, the research suggests.

Miao C et al. “A meta-analysis of emotional intelligence and work attitudes”. Journal of Occupational & Organizational Psychology, published online 30 December 2016.

Spousal loss and absence

Young widowers experience a strong “crisis response” following the death of a spouse, whereas young widows in a similar situation have a markedly prolonged recovery period, with consequent impacts on levels of absence from work, according to this Finnish study. The population-based study examines the effects of spousal loss on being absent from work due to illness, looking at short- and long-term absence and age variations.

Vignes B. “Crisis or chronic strain? Gender and age differences in sickness absence following early spousal loss”. Journal of Health & Social Behavior, published online 23 January 2017.

Occupational hazards, deprivation and pregnancy

Deprived pregnant workers are an occupationally vulnerable group, according to this cross-sectional study of French workers. Of the 1,402 pregnant workers in the sample, 21% were classed as deprived and more frequently encountered occupational hazards, particularly physical ones, which had implications for pregnancy outcomes. For example, deprived pregnant staff who were exposed to three or more occupational hazards during pregnancy were almost four times as likely to experience pre-term birth.

Henrotin J-B et al. “Deprivation, occupational hazards and perinatal outcomes in pregnant workers”. Occupational Medicine, vol.67(1), pp.44-51.

Occupational trauma and absence

The support of colleagues rather than that from a supervisor or line manager may be more helpful in recovering from a less severe work-related traumatic event, according to this study of German transport staff. A total of 259 incidents were observed and a regression analysis carried out to explore which factors best predict the duration of post-event sickness absence. This found that the type of peer support provided, together with age, predicted absence for less severe trauma, but that this effect was not significant in the case of severe events.

Clarner A et al. “Sickness absence among peer-supported drivers after occupational trauma”. Occupational Medicine, published online 25 October 2016.

Can work make you mentally ill?

Certain types of work can mean that an employee is at a greater risk of developing common mental health problems, according to this systematic meta-review. Three broad categories of work-related factors were identified to explain how work may contribute to the development of depression and/or anxiety: imbalanced job design; occupational uncertainty and lack of value; and respect in the workplace. Within these categories, the researchers found moderate-level evidence to suggest that high job demands, low job control, high effort-reward imbalance and a number of other factors all increase the risk of mental ill health at work.

Harvey SB et al. “Can work make you mentally ill? A systematic meta-review of work-related risk factors for common mental health problems”. Occupational & Environmental Medicine, published online 20 January 2017.

Heat strain and kidney function

Heat strain and a piece-work system of payment are associated with acute kidney injury, according to this study of 283 agricultural workers in California. Just over 12% of the agricultural workers surveyed in a single shift were characterised as having acute kidney injury, and those who experienced heat strain during the shift were at higher risk. Those paid by the piece picked or processed, and women piece workers in particular, were at extreme risk of developing an acute kidney injury.

Moyce S et al, “Heat strain, volume depletion and kidney function in California agricultural workers”. Occupational & Environmental Medicine, published online 16 January 2017.

Chronic illness and work

The support of friends and family, patient associations, employers, colleagues and OH professionals are all needed to design suitable plans for work retention among those with a chronic disease. This is the main finding of focus group-based research to explore solutions and support requirements of people with a chronic disease. Disclosing the disease to employers and colleagues, identifying active ways to help with duties and tasks, and implementing adaptations to the working environment were all found to be effective in work retention. An effective occupational health response focused on gaining an insight into the employee’s fitness for work, promoting self-efficacy in the employee and in designing work participation plans.

Vooijs M et al. “Perspectives of people with a chronic disease on participating in work: a focus group study”. Journal of Occupational Rehabilitation, published online 18 January 2017.

New tool to support mental health literacy

Researchers have developed a new tool to support employees and line managers develop their own mental health literacy in a move designed to foster early intervention and support at work. The tool features four different scenarios, with a series of parallel questions that explore each of the four dimensions of mental health literacy. The tool was tested and evaluated with 192 healthcare workers and found to be have a high level of internal consistency, prompting the authors of this research to conclude that it is a “promising tool to track the need for, and impact of, mental health education in the workplace”.

Moll S et al. “Evaluating mental health literacy in the workplace: development and psychometric properties of a Vignette-based tool”. Journal of Occupational Rehabilitation, published online 24 January 2017.

Scottish school support staff and stress

Rising work demands mean that growing numbers of school support staff in Scotland experience stress, according to a survey by the union Unison. Almost 40% of the sample work extra unpaid hours most weeks and a further 32% do so “now and again”. Even those whose jobs are not supposed to involve contact time with children feel under pressure to help a child who needs it, which often means the employee concerned skips a break or cannot complete their allocated work.

Hard lessons: a survey of Scotland’s school support staff”, January 2017.

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