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Workaholism leads to mental and physical health problems

High job demands at work are strongly associated with work addiction risk but the job control level does not play the same role. The prevalence of work addiction risk is higher for active and high-strain workers than for passive and low-strain workers.

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Workaholism or work addiction risk is a growing public health concern that can lead to many negative mental and physical health outcomes such as depression, anxiety or sleep disorder. Perception of work (job demands and job control) may become a major cause of employees’ work addiction. The international group of researchers including the HSE University scientist explored the link between work addiction risk and health-related outcomes using the framework of Job Demand Control Model. The results were published in the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health.

Workaholics are people who usually work seven and more hours more than others per week. There are potential reasons for that: financial problems, poor marriage or pressure by their organization or supervisor. What can differentiate a workaholic behaviour from similar behaviour like work engagement? Workaholism is also known as a behavioural disorder, which means the excessive involvement of the individual in work when an employer doesn’t require or expect it.

The scientists aimed to demonstrate the extent to which the work addiction risk is associated with the perception of work (job demands and job control), and mental health in four job categories suggested by Karasek’s model or Job Demand-Control-Support model (JDCS). The JDCS model assumes four various work environments (four quadrants) in which workers may experience a different level of job demands and job control: passive, low-strain, active, and tense/job-strain. Job control is the extent to which an employee feels control over doing work.

“Passive” jobs (low job control, low job demands) might be satisfying to a worker as long as the workers reach the set goal. “Low strain” jobs have high job control and low job demands. Individuals in this category are not particularly at risk of mental health problems, and it corresponds typically to creative jobs such as architects. “Active” workers have high job demands and high job control. They are highly skilled professionals with responsibilities, such as heads or directors of companies. Those highly skilled workers have very demanding tasks but they have high levels of decision latitude to solve problems. Finally, workers at risk of stress-related disorders are those within the “job strain” group (high demand and low control). For example, healthcare workers from emergency departments are typically in job strain because they cannot control the huge workload.

The study was conducted in France because it is one of the industrial countries with growing numbers of occupations. The authors of the research collected data from 187 out of 1580 (11.8%) French workers who agreed to participate in a cross-sectional study using the WittyFit software online platform. The self-administered questionnaires were the Job Content Questionnaire by Karasek, the Work Addiction Risk Test, the Hospital Anxiety and Depression scale and socio-demographics. The authors of this study divided all the participants based on their occupational groups and investigated the link between work addiction risk and mental and physical health outcomes.

‘One of the novelties of this research was to introduce vulnerable occupational groups to organizations or job holders. For example, if we find that work addiction risk can be found more in some occupations and may result in negative outcomes for the health situation then we can give this information to decision makers in this organization or, for example, to the ministry of health. And they could intervene to prevent this problem,’ explains Morteza Charkhabi, Associate Professor at the Institute of Education at the HSE University.

The results show that high job demands at work are strongly associated with work addiction risk but the job control level does not play the same role. The prevalence of work addiction risk is higher for active and high-strain workers than for passive and low-strain workers. These two groups of workers appeared to be more vulnerable and therefore can suffer more from the negative outcomes of work addiction risk, in terms of depression, sleep disorder, stress and other health issues.

‘We found that job demands could be the most important factor that can develop work addiction risk. So this factor should be controlled or should be investigated by the organization’s manager, for example, HR staff, psychologists. Also another conclusion could be the job climate like job demands of each job category can influence the rate of work addiction risk. Thus in this study we actually focused on external factors like job demands not internal factors like the personal characteristics,’ adds Morteza Charkhabi.

The researchers found that people with higher work addiction risk compared to people with low work addiction risk have twice the risk of developing depression. Sleep quality was lower to workers with high risk of work addiction compared to workers with low risk of work addiction. Also women had almost twice the work addiction risk than men.

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Happiness really does come for free

Majority of people reported remarkably high levels of happiness. This was especially true in the communities with the lowest levels of monetization, where citizens reported a degree of happiness comparable to that found in Scandinavian countries which typically rate highest in the world.

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Economic growth is often prescribed as a sure way of increasing the well-being of people in low-income countries, but a study led by McGill and the Institute of Environmental Sciences and Technologies at the Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona (ICTA-UAB) suggests that there may be good reason to question this assumption.

The researchers set out to find out how people rate their subjective well-being in societies where money plays a minimal role, and which are not usually included in global happiness surveys. They found that the majority of people reported remarkably high levels of happiness. This was especially true in the communities with the lowest levels of monetization, where citizens reported a degree of happiness comparable to that found in Scandinavian countries which typically rate highest in the world.

The results suggest that high levels of subjective well-being can be achieved with minimal monetization, challenging the perception that economic growth will automatically raise life satisfaction among low-income populations.

Measuring happiness

To explore how monetization affects people’s sense of well-being, the researchers spent time in several small fishing communities, with varying degrees of monetization, in the Solomon Islands and Bangladesh, two very low-income countries. Over a period of a few months, with the help of local translators, they interviewed citizens in both rural and urban areas a number of times. The interviews, which took place both in person and through phone calls at unexpected moments, were designed to elicit information about what constituted happiness for the study subjects, as well as to get a sense of their passing moods, their lifestyle, fishing activities, household income, and level of market integration.

In all, the researchers interviewed 678 people, ranging in age between their mid-twenties and early fifties, with an average age of about 37. Almost 85 % of the study participants were male. The disproportionate number of men in the study was due to the fact that cultural norms in Bangladesh made it difficult to interview women. In the Solomon Islands, responses to the study questions from men and women were not significantly different. However, this is not necessarily applicable to the situation in Bangladesh, as men and women’s social realities and lifestyles differ so much. Further research will need to address whether gender-related societal norms impact the association found in this study.

Early stages of monetization may be detrimental to happiness

The researchers found that in the communities where money was in greater use, such as in urban Bangladesh, residents reported lower levels of happiness.

“Our study hints at possible ways of achieving happiness that are unrelated to high incomes and material wealth,” says Eric Galbraith, a professor in McGill’s Department of Earth and Planetary Sciences and the senior author on the study, which was recently published in PLOS One. “This is important, because if we replicate these results elsewhere and can pinpoint the factors that contribute to subjective well-being, it may help us circumvent some of the environmental costs associated with achieving social well-being in the least developed nations.”

“In less monetized sites, we found that people reported a greater proportion of time spent with family and contact with nature as being responsible for making them happy,” explains Sara Miñarro, the lead author on the study who is a Postdoctoral Research Fellow at (ICTA-UAB). “But with increasing monetization, we found that the social and economic factors commonly recognized in industrialized countries played a bigger role. Overall, our findings suggest that monetization, especially in its early stages, may actually be detrimental to happiness.”

Interestingly, while other research has found that technology and access to information from faraway cultures with different lifestyles may affect people’s sense of their own well-being by offering standards to which people compare their own lives, this did not appear to be the case in these communities.

“Happy without money: Minimally monetized societies can exhibit high subjective well-being” by Sara Miñarro, et al was published in PLOS One.

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Picture books can boost physical activity for youth with autism

There are numerous health benefits of exercise, such as pumping blood in your body, better sleep and reduced risk of obesity. Also, if we can get kids with autism more physically engaged, they are more likely to run around and play with their peers, so there are other aspects of their life we can improve as well.

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While physical activity is important for everyone, research has shown people with developmental disabilities do not exercise as often as their typically developed peers. In an effort to close this disparity, a researcher at the University of Missouri recently created fitness picture books that help youth with autism exercise more frequently while offering low-income families a simple resource for workout motivation when outdoor fitness equipment might not be accessible.

“There is so much research geared toward helping individuals with autism improve their academic performance, social skills and communication skills, but we also need to remember how important physical activity is for living a healthy lifestyle,” said Lorraine Becerra, an assistant teaching professor at the MU College of Education. “There are numerous health benefits of exercise, such as pumping blood in your body, better sleep and reduced risk of obesity. Also, if we can get kids with autism more physically engaged, they are more likely to run around and play with their peers, so there are other aspects of their life we can improve as well.”

Becerra is also a behavior analyst at the Thompson Center for Autism and Neurodevelopmental Disorders. Since some of her former clients with autism had body mass indexes that had risen to unhealthy levels due to excessive sedentary behavior, their caregivers asked Becerra to develop creative ways to encourage their children to exercise more.

So, in a recent research study, Becerra created fitness picture books that contained step-by-step images of various exercises, such as jumping jacks, bear crawls and lunges. The picture books were successfully utilized to increase the amount of time the individuals with autism engaged in physical activity.

Having previously worked in low-income school districts with limited financial resources, Becerra understands the need to find cost-efficient methods to help kids with autism exercise more frequently.

“It’s important to remember that some schools might not have a jungle gym or many age-appropriate resources for kids to play with,” Becerra said. “The great thing about the picture books is they provide simple, engaging exercises that can be done in a wide variety of settings, like a school playground, backyard or even an empty field at a park. It is also a quick and easy way for caregivers or teachers to provide organized structure during flexible free time, such as during recess.”

With recent advancements in technology and entertainment, youth are increasingly spending more of their time sitting in front of televisions, tablets and personal electronic devices. Becerra is passionate about reminding youth — particularly individuals on the autism spectrum — about the importance of scheduling time for physical activity.

“These lifelong habits start when you are young,” Becerra said. “Making time to run around and establish those exercise routines early in life will help youth maintain those habits in their adolescent and adult years.”

“The effect of photographic activity schedules on moderate-to-vigorous physical activity in children with autism spectrum disorder” was recently published in the Journal of Applied Behavior Analysis.

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Taking the fear out of driver education

Educational programs often use fear-based messaging and films of crash scenes to reduce risky driving behavior among young people. But does this “scary” approach work?

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New drivers between the ages of 15 and 25 account for nearly half of the more than one million road deaths that occur worldwide each year, according to the World Health Organization. Educational programs often use fear-based messaging and films of crash scenes to reduce risky driving behavior among young people. But does this “scary” approach work?

A new study published in the journal Risk Analysis suggests that fear-based messaging fails to reduce risky driving behavior, while fear-based Virtual Reality (VR) films depicting a violent collision may actually lead young drivers to take more chances behind the wheel.

A team of psychologists led by University of Antwerp researcher Clara Alida Cutello, PhD, conducted a study of 146 students who had been legally driving for less than five years. The researchers examined the impact of both content (fear vs. positive) and delivery mode (2D vs. VR) of driver safety intervention programs.

Fear-based driver ed films often show terrible crash scenes in graphic detail. The assumption behind this approach is that arousing a sense of fear by depicting a serious consequence such as death will persuade young people to drive more carefully. Positively framed films take the opposite approach, using humor and empathy and modeling safe driving behaviors that result in positive consequences.

Three tests were used to gauge the risk-taking behavior of the young drivers before and after participating in the intervention program. One was a Driver Behavior Questionnaire. The other was the Vienna Risk-Taking Test on traffic, which asks participants to watch video clips of driving situations from the point of view of the driver and choose whether they view a situation as too risky. For example, choosing whether to pass another car in icy conditions. A third test was a 21-item Emotional Arousal Scale that measured the level of emotional arousal (such as feeling afraid) after watching a film.

The results showed that participants who viewed the fear-based VR film reported riskier driving behaviors afterward, while those who viewed a positively framed VR film exhibited the greatest reduction in risky driving behavior. This finding supports other research that has shown that exposing participants to an extreme and graphic collision tends to activate defensive mechanisms, such as paying attention for a shorter time, disengaging, rejecting a message, and an increase in risky behaviors.

“Fear appeals have been used in many health and environmental campaigns, such as smoking, anti-drug, safe sex, and HIV prevention campaigns,” says Dr. Cutello. “Further experimental research is needed to determine whether the use of fear is effective.”

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