Men who say they have stressful jobs and also feel they exert high efforts for low reward had double the risk of heart disease compared to men free of those stressors, according to new research published today in Circulation: Cardiovascular Quality and Outcomes, a peer-reviewed American Heart Association journal.
"Considering the significant amount of time people spend at work, understanding the relationship between work stressors and cardiovascular health is crucial for public health and workforce well-being," said lead study author Mathilde Lavigne-Robichaud, R.D., M.S., doctoral candidate, Population Health and Optimal Health Practices Research Unit, CHU de Quebec-University Laval Research Center in Quebec, Canada. "Our study highlights the pressing need to proactively address stressful working conditions, to create healthier work environments that benefit employees and employers."
Heart disease is the No. 1 cause of death in the U.S. according to American Heart Association statistics. In 2020, nearly 383,000 Americans died of heart disease.
Research has shown that two psychosocial stressors -- job strain and effort-reward imbalance at work -- may increase heart disease risk. However, few studies have examined the combined effect.
"Job strain refers to work environments where employees face a combination of high job demands and low control over their work. High demands can include a heavy workload, tight deadlines and numerous responsibilities, while low control means the employee has little say in decision-making and how they perform their tasks," Lavigne-Robichaud explained.
"Effort-reward imbalance occurs when employees invest high effort into their work, but they perceive the rewards they receive in return -- such as salary, recognition or job security -- as insufficient or unequal to the effort. For instance, if you're always going above and beyond, but you feel like you're not getting the credit or rewards you deserve, that's called effort-reward imbalance."
The study found:
"Our results suggest that interventions aimed at reducing stressors from the work environment could be particularly effective for men and could also have positive implications for women, as these stress factors are associated with other prevalent health issues such as depression," Lavigne-Robichaud said. "The study's inability to establish a direct link between psychosocial job stressors and coronary heart disease in women signals the need for further investigation into the complex interplay of various stressors and women's heart health."
Interventions might include different approaches, such as providing support resources, promoting work-life balance, enhancing communication and empowering employees to have more control over their work, she said.
"The U.S. workforce is among the most stressed in the world, and these workplace stressors can be as harmful to health as obesity and secondhand smoke," Eduardo J. Sanchez, M.D., M.P.H., FAHA, FAAFP, chief medical officer for prevention at the American Heart Association. "This study adds to the growing body of evidence that the workplace should be prioritized as a vehicle for advancing cardiovascular health for all. The American Heart Association remains committed to and engaged in providing employers with the resources and information they need to actively support the health of their employees and communities through science-backed changes to policy and culture."
Study background and details:
One study limitation is that the researchers studied men and women in white-collar jobs primarily in Quebec, Canada, and the results might not fully represent the diversity of the American working population. However, the study findings may be relevant to white-collar workers in the United States and other high-income countries with similar job structures, according to Lavigne-Robichaud.
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