STUDY OBJECTIVE--To describe the association between self reported and externally assessed work characteristics and psychiatric disorder. DESIGN--Analysis of questionnaire data collected from the first phase of the Whitehall II study, a cohort study of an employed population. SETTING--Twenty civil service departments in London. PARTICIPANTS--Altogether 6900 male and 3414 female civil servants aged 35-55 years. MAIN RESULTS--High levels of subjective social support at work, control at work, job variety, and skill use were associated with greater satisfaction and wellbeing and less psychiatric disorder measured by the 30 item general health questionnaire (GHQ). High levels of subjective work pace and conflicting demands were associated with less satisfaction and wellbeing and greater psychiatric disorder. The combined effects of work characteristics were similar to the effects of the work characteristics considered separately, except that for men there was a small interaction between psychological demands and control on the GHQ. There was little overall support for the two factor job strain model. In contrast, objective indices of work were generally not associated with the psychological indices. Findings in men and women were generally comparable and were not significantly influenced by employment grade. CONCLUSIONS--Negative affectivity and a tendency to report negatively about both work and the psychological indices may partly explain the difference in the findings between subjective and objective work characteristics. However, subjective work characteristics were still associated with psychiatric disorder after adjusting for negative affectivity. The potential confounding effects of employment grade did not explain the association between either subjective or objective work characteristics and the psychological indices. While modifications to the work environment may directly reduce certain adverse physical health effects, the influence of work place design and management on psychological wellbeing, satisfaction, and psychiatric disorder may be mediated through subjective perceptions of the work environment.
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