OTTAWA, Ont. — Work-related stress has a direct bearing on the current and long-term productivity of Canadian workers in terms of reduced work activities, disability days and absenteeism, according to a new study.
The study, published in Perspectives on Labour and Income, used data from the 2002 Canadian Community Health Survey and various cycles of the National Population Health Survey to examine work stress and its impact on workers.
Work stress can be measured by several indicators, one of which is job strain. The study found that men with high-strain jobs were 1.7 times more likely than those with low-strain jobs to report lower work activities due to a long-term health problem.
Men with high-strain jobs were also 1.5 times more likely to report having taken at least one disability day during the two weeks prior to the survey.
The study is of particular importance in the trucking industry because the long or irregular work hours many drivers are subjected to may increase stress. (Added to this of course is the stress stemming from time away from home and from shipper demands for adherence to schedules despite constraints arising from poor road conditions, traffic congestion, customs delays, etc.)
According to a Survey of Labour and Income Dynamics, just over 7 in 10 truckers reported their professional and personal life as being very or somewhat stressful in 2002.
“Overall, long hours of work appear to have a harmful effect on health, since they lead to unhealthy changes in lifestyle, such as lack of physical exercise, lack of sleep, and poor eating habits It is therefore not surprising that male truckers had one of the highest rates of non-participation in the labour market for health reasons or because of an illness-related disability (3.7% compared with 2.6% for all workers), according to Labour Force Survey figures for 2004, pointed out Vincent Dube and Denis Pilon in their own study of the driving profession, On the Road Again.
They noted that each trucker lost an average of nine days for these same reasons during the year, compared with six for male workers in general.
The latest study concluded that high self-perceived work stress was strongly related to taking disability days. Almost one in five men and women who perceived their regular work days to be stressful took at least one disability day during the two weeks prior to the survey. The study found that different sources of work stress do not occur in isolation, but interact with one another. Physical exertion and job insecurity can also cause stress.
Men in physical jobs were 2.2 times more likely to have a work absence than men in non-physical jobs, while women were 1.9 times more likely. On a long-term basis, men and women who worked in physically demanding jobs were about 1.6 times more likely than those in other jobs to have reduced their work activities in the following two years.
The study also looked at various characteristics of people who reported work strain, such as sex, age, income and job-related variables. It found that more women reported high work strain than men, and that employed women were more likely to report high work stress.
Proportionally, 28% of working women reported having a high-strain job, compared with 20% of men. One-third of women felt quite a bit, or extremely, stressed most days at work, compared with 29% of men.
Shift workers were more likely to have high-strain jobs than other workers. They were also more likely to perceive their jobs as physically demanding.
Individuals with low personal incomes were more likely to have high-strain jobs than individuals with high incomes. Almost 28% of workers with incomes of less than $20,000 had high-strain jobs, compared with only 18% of workers earning $60,000 or more.
A supportive work environment tended to mitigate job interruptions due to stress, while negative coping mechanisms (such as increased smoking or drinking) were associated with more interruptions.
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