Health Impacts of Org Design

The living condiitions experienced within an organisation have been found through robust research to have a direct impact on the longterm physical and mental health of workers.

Degrees of "Job Control" and its Health Impact 

One compelling set of findings is from the UK Civil Servants study (directed by Professor Michael Marmot of the Department of Epidemiology and Public Health at University College London), called the "Whitehall Study" as reviewed here (by Keith Rice) and quoted below:

The researchers used the ‘Job-Strain Model’ which proposes the workplace leads to stress and illness in 2 ways:-
- high workload – creating greater job demands
- low job control – eg: over deadlines, procedures, etc

A sample of 10,308 civil servants aged 35-55 (6895 men (67%) and 3413 women (33%) were investigated in a longitudinal study over 3 years.
  • "Participants with low job control were 4 times more likely to die of a heart attack than those with high job control. They were also more likely to suffer from other stress-related disorders such as cancers, strokes and gastrointestinal disorders. These findings were consistent on both occasions that job control was measured and the association was still significant after other factors, such as employment grade, negative attitude to employment, job demands, social support, physical inactivity and risk factors for chronic heart disease had been accounted for."
  • Surprisingly workload does not have the negative impact that lack of job control has: "Other factors, such as workload or the degree of social support received at work, did not appear to be associated with the risk of heart disease."
Worth noting however are the crticisms of the resesarch methodology published here
  • The self-report method is vulnerable to investigator effects and social desirability bias. The questions may give cues as to the aim of the research and so create an demand characteristics The participants may have guessed that an association between job control and stress-related illness was being looked for, and so reported low job control if suffering from illness and high job control if not. Similarly, the observations also made by the personnel managers could be biased by an expectancy effect.
  • Weaknesses of the correlational method mean that there is no control over job control as a variable, which makes interpretations difficult as cause-and-effect cannot be inferred (causation can only be inferred when an independent variable has been directly manipulated). Thus, it cannot be said that low job control causes stress-related illness; only that an association can be inferred. This lack of control also means that other factors (eg: personality, coping skills) may be involved in the association

Mental Health Impacts of Workplace Stress