Work stress favors depression and shortens life expectancy

Work stress favors depression and shortens life expectancy

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How work affects psyche and life expectancy

The degree of autonomy, the stress and the demands in the workplace as well as the cognitive ability to deal with these demands have a great influence on our mental health and mortality.

A recent joint study by researchers from Indiana University Kelley School of Business and Northern Illinois University found that various factors at work have a significant impact on our psyche and life expectancy. The results of the study were published in an article in the English-language journal "Journal of Applied Psychology".

Data from 3,148 people were evaluated

In their research, the researchers wanted to find out how job requirements affect health. To do this, they analyzed the data from 3,148 people living in Wisconsin who took part in the nationally representative longitudinal survey Midlife in the United States. 211 of the participants died during the 20-year study.

How do work requirements affect health?

“We looked at how control at work (or the level of autonomy of employees at work) and cognitive skills (or people's ability to learn and solve problems) influence how work stressors like time pressure or Workload affects mental and physical health and ultimately death, ”said Professor Erik Gonzalez-Mulé of Indiana University in a press release.

When did mental health deteriorate?

If the work requirements that arise are higher than the ability to deal with these requirements, the mental health of the person concerned deteriorates and the likelihood of premature death increases accordingly, the researchers report.

What influence do work stressors have?

So-called work stressors (features of work situations that are likely to trigger a stress reaction) are more likely to lead to depression and premature death. This is especially true for jobs where the worker has little control or people with less cognitive skills.

Work demands can also improve health

However, work demands can also lead to improved health and a lower probability of dying if they are accompanied by more control over the work tasks, the researchers report. "We believe that this is because work control and cognitive skills act as resources that help people deal with work stressors," said Professor Gonzalez-Mulé.

How can stress be reduced at work?

The ability to work on your own schedule and prioritize work so that existing work goals can be achieved helps people deal with stress better. In general, smarter people seem to be better able to adapt to the demands of a stressful job and to find ways to deal with stress.

Stress reduction measures

Supervisors should give more control to people working in demanding jobs. In professions where this is not possible, a corresponding reduction in requirements should be sought, the researchers report. For example, giving people the opportunity to set their own goals or how they want to do their work could have a positive impact on health. This also applies to a reduction in working hours.

High cognitive skills for demanding tasks

Organizations should also select people with high cognitive skills for demanding tasks. In this way, the companies will benefit from the higher work performance associated with smarter employees and at the same time have a healthier workforce, the researchers explain.

Increased problems in times of COVID-19

COVID-19 could cause more mental health problems, so it is particularly important that work doesn't make these problems worse, says Professor Gonzalez-Mulé. Therefore, the requirements of the working people should be reasonably controlled and, if necessary, even reduced. Managers should be aware of their employees' cognitive ability and give them sufficient autonomy, adds the research group.

Conclusion of the study

The current study concludes that mental health and mortality are closely related to the degree of autonomy in the workplace, the workload, the existing work requirements and the cognitive ability of the individual to deal with these requirements. (as)

Author and source information

This text corresponds to the specifications of the medical literature, medical guidelines and current studies and has been checked by medical doctors.


  • Erik Gonzalez-Mulé, Bethany S. Cockburn: This job is (literally) killing me: A moderated-mediated model linking work characteristics to mortality., In Journal of Applied Psychology (published 2020), Journal of Applied Psychology
  • Is your job killing you? Stress, lack of autonomy and ability can lead to depression and death, Indiana University (Published May 19, 2020), Indiana University

Video: Gary Gottlieb, MD Partners in Health speaks at the Technology in Psychiatry Summit 2017 (October 2022).