Job Stress can Affect Health and Home Life

Vijai P. Sharma, Ph.D

Educated and well informed Americans are highly concerned about job stress these days. Many studies have shown that job stress is associated with back pain, coronary heart disease, immune disorders, and personal and family problems.

Our understanding of work stress has greatly expanded in the last few years. For example, earlier, if you had asked experts who is likely to suffer from work- stress, they would have said, "A person with Type A behavior." If you had asked the same experts to define work stress, they would have done so in terms of excessive workload and tough supervisory demands. Now we know that not only Type A persons need to worry about work stress; but also the non-Type As. Work stress is far more complex than just workload and a "mean boss."

Now, job stress is largely defined as a measure of three factors: 1. The degree of physical and psychological demands; 2. How much control a worker feels he or she has over these demands; (control is measured by the degree to which a worker participates in the decision making regarding the matters that directly involve him or her; 3. The level of job security and social support.

High job demands and lack of control over such demands, coupled with job insecurity and poor social support, bring increased risk of physical and mental disorders and family breakdown. Many physical illnesses usually don't have only physical causes. Stress plays a large role in them. Scores of studies have shown that a combination of high demands, and lack of control, security and support, contributes to absenteeism, mental strain, heart diseases, immune function disorders, muscles and bone problems including repetitive strain injuries.

According to a national survey of 1000 workers, 4 out of 10 American workers are "very" or "extremely" concerned about stress from work demands. In the same survey, 6 out of 10 workers are very or extremely concerned with not getting enough sleep. About half of the workers have to work overtime with little or no prior notice.

Studies have shown that women experience higher job stress and are more likely than men to bring job stress home. This observation, on the surface, sounds incredulous. After all, in the traditional role, men are the breadwinners and have the responsibility for the economic survival of the family. It is also true that you don't ever seem to hear of a woman committing suicide because she was fired from her job. Likewise, you don't hear of a frustrated and enraged woman "going postal," that is, coming after her supervisors and co-workers with an oozie gun. However, all such arguments don't prove that men experience job stress more than women do. It only shows that that men are more aggressive in expressing their rage and frustration.

In recent years, female executives, entrepreneurs and small-business women have attracted a lot of interest and attention. Many books are written about this group of women, but who is watching the store for millions of women working in mills, offices, factories, and other lack luster jobs? Not much is scientifically known or discussed about them, many of whom are single mothers, harassed by their ex- mates, and often fighting for child support.

A Canadian study led by Karen Messig at the University of Quebec, Montreal, researched the problems of women who work as factory laborers, janitors, telephone operators, teachers or technicians. Messig found that women's jobs involve small problems that add up to big job stress. She concluded that their job stress is greater than that associated with men's jobs.

Bye and large, women's jobs are more tightly structured in such matters as taking time off or changing work schedules. So, when are they going to get the time for such matters as doctors' appointments, daycare visits, interviews with baby sitters, and school conferences? They also get less respect at work and have less control over their job demands. Some even face harassment.

Women generally have more responsibilities at home than men do. On average, a working mother does "double shift," one at work and the other at home. So, when women are at their jobs, they are thinking more about problems at home, and when they are at home, they are worrying about their jobs.

Friends and relatives don't judge a woman on her job performance but on her performance as a wife and as a mother. She may be a model worker for her company, first to come to work and the last one to leave, and putting in more than a day's work every day. There may be no kudos for this exemplary performance. But if her child was found with head-lice, who is going to be blamed for it? You guessed it!

Working women, on average, work 21 hours more per week than men do. No, wonder that women with full time jobs and children at home have higher levels of cortisol, a stress hormone, known to increase the risk for heart disease.

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Copyright 1996, Mind Publications 


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