Occupational health research round-up: June 2018


Supervisor support vital for workers living with chronic headaches

Employees living and working with chronic headaches are at high risk of emotional exhaustion due to high work demands. However, this Dutch study also suggests they benefit more from the positive support of supervisors than colleagues without chronic disease. For example, higher supervisor and colleague support was associated with higher employability, higher engagement and lower emotional exhaustion in the group of 593 employees with chronic headaches compared with the 13,742 control group. The authors conclude that “job demands and job resources are important for work ability in employees with chronic headaches.”

van der Doef, M P and Schelvis R M C. “Relations between psychosocial job characteristics and work ability in employees with chronic headaches”. Journal of Occupational Rehabilitation, published online 10 April 2018.

Depression and early ill health retirement

Employees with depressive symptoms have a raised risk of exiting the workforce because of ill health, according to this Korean study. Compared to those without any such symptoms, depressed workers had a 1.27-fold raised risk of ill health retirement; this risk increased further for women and lower income groups, the study concludes.

Cho Y-M et al. “The impact of depression on ill-health retirement and its moderating factors: analysis from the Korean longitudinal study of aging (2006-2014)”. Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine, published online 4 April 2018.

Workplace culture “is a risk factor for violence”

A poor culture or climate of violence prevention in the workplace is a risk factor for both verbal and physical violence against staff, according to this hospital-based study. Interpersonal conflict was a risk factor for verbal violence (odds ratio of 1.49) and poor work efficiency was a risk factor for physical violence (odds ratio of 0.98). Interventions designed to tackle violence at work should aim to improve working relationships, working efficiency and line manager awareness and promotion of the organisation’s violence prevention strategy, the authors conclude.

Arnetz, J et al. “Organizational determinants of workplace violence against hospital workers”. Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine, published online 17 April 2018.

Managers and staff unhappy at work

More than half (54%) of frontline employees feel “rarely” or “almost never” keen to get to work in the morning. A similar proportion of all UK employees can recall something happening in the past month that has made them feel less positive about working life, including bullying, harassment, work-related stress and sexual assault. These were some of the key findings of research published by employee benefits provider Personal Group in March. Young workers were the unhappiest of all, but the story was not much better for those aged 30-49, where almost half of all employees are rarely or almost never happy at work. The number of senior managers and department heads reporting that they never or rarely felt they were working as efficiently as possible had almost doubled since the last survey was carried out by Personal Group in 2017.

“More than half of all UK employees are unhappy in the workplace, according to new survey”, Personal Group, March 27, 2018.

“Presenteeism” is rife in the NHS

Over one third of NHS staff (38%) reported feeling unwell because of work-related stress in a 12-month period leading up to the latest annual employee survey by NHS England. This represents a rise on the 36.7% reporting work stress in 2016, reversing a declining medium-term trend. Even higher proportions of staff in mental health/learning disabilities and ambulance trusts reported illness due to work-related stress (41% and 49% respectively). Just over half of NHS staff attended work in the three months prior to the survey despite feeling unwell, often because they felt pressure from their manager, colleagues or themselves. In a quarter of these cases, employees felt under pressure from a manager. However, management interest in taking action on health and wellbeing at work improved slightly in 2017, the survey report concluded.

“NHS staff survey 2017: national briefing”, http://www.nhsstaffsurveys.com/Caches/Files/P3088_ST17_National%20briefing_v5.1_LB_RC_FR_20180419.pdf

Physical fatigue, MSD pain and insomnia link

There is a link between work-related physical fatigue, musculoskeletal pain and symptoms of insomnia, according to this Norwegian study. For example, men and women reporting that they are always fatigued due to their work are more than twice as likely to report symptoms of insomnia than those without work-related physical fatigue.

Skarpsno E S et al. “Physical work exposure, chronic musculoskeletal pain and risk of insomnia: longitudinal data from the HUNT study, Norway”. Occupational & Environmental Medicine, published online 19 April 2018.

“Real” reasons for long-term sickness absence

The reason someone takes long-term sickness absence and remains off sick is not just down to the diagnosis on the fit note, research published in the journal Occupational Health @ Work has argued. While the initial diagnosis is relevant in triggering the initial absence, other factors are involved. Importantly, “psychosocial factors”, such as an employee believing their ill health is caused or made worse by work, poor support from the manager and disciplinary issues can all play their part in triggering or prolonging absence, it contended.

“Establishing the ‘real’ causes of long-term sickness absence and its contribution to lost working time”. Occupational Health @ Work, April 2018. Published online at https://www.atworkpartnership.co.uk/long-term-sickness-absence-research

Heart disease and fast-food outlets

People living in urban areas with one or more fast food outlets within 1km of their home are significantly more likely to develop cardiovascular disease (CVD) and coronary heart disease (CHD) than those living in areas with no fast food outlets, according to a nationwide study in the Netherlands. The study also highlights that the availability of fast food, which generally consists of processed meat and refined carbohydrates and is high in salt, saturated fat, and calories, as increased dramatically in European countries over the past few years.

“People living near fast food outlets more likely to develop heart disease, study shows”. BMJ 2018;361:k1800. Published 24 April 2018


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