Work Risk Factors
According to one survey, 40% of American workers describe their jobs as very stressful. Job-related stress is particularly likely to become chronic because it is such a large part of daily life. And, stress in turn reduces a worker’s effectiveness by impairing concentration, causing sleeplessness, and increasing the risk for illness, back problems, accidents, and lost time. Work stress can lead to harassment or even violence while on the job. At its most extreme, stress that places such a burden on the heart and circulation may be fatal. The Japanese even have a word for sudden death due to overwork, karoushi. In fact, a number of studies are now suggesting that job-related stress is as great a threat to health as smoking or not exercising.
Among the intense stressors at work are the following:
- Having no participation in decisions that affect one’s responsibilities.
- Unrelenting and unreasonable demands for performance.
- Lack of effective communication and conflict-resolution methods among workers and employers.
- Lack of job security.
- Long hours.
- Excessive time spent away from home and family.
- Office politics and conflicts between workers.
- Wages not commensurate with levels of responsibility.
An Absent or Inadequate Relaxation Response
In some people, stress hormones remain elevated instead of returning to normal levels. This may occur in highly competitive athletes or people with a history of Depression.
In a 1999 study scientists reported the discovery of a small protein in the brain (orphanin FQ/nociceptin) that plays an important role in the stress response. Animals with a genetic deficiency in this protein are unable to manage stress response and exhibit over-anxious behavior in response to new situations. Future research may reveal similar findings in humans.
Revision date: June 20, 2011
Last revised: by Sebastian Scheller, MD, ScD