Hot Topic

Work and Health


Fred Zijlstra, Maastricht University, The Netherlands

„Work, health and disability - How to retain people for work?“

Work is important in a person’s life. And health is even more important. The relationship between work and health is complicated: good health is a pre-requisite for being able to deal with all the demands of work, but health is also affected by working. In the past decades working life has become more intense and more complex, largely due to use of technology and emphasizing efficiency in organizations. As a consequence the workload for employees has steadily increased, resulting in large episodes of sickness absence due to stress and burnout (i.e. psychological health issues) for a large group. The World Health Organization (WHO) indicated that psychological health issues will shortly be the dominant reason for work incapacity.
Our research indicates that W&O psychologists should play a larger role in helping organizations and employees to return to work, since the psychological and organizational issues related to return to work appear to be more prominent then the medical issues. Work & Organizational Psychologists have devoted a lot of attention on studying the antecedents of stress and burnout, and now they should use their expertise (and gain influence) by trying to understand which organizational and individual factors facilitate ‘return to work’. In the presentation findings of a study, including 6 EU countries, examining system, organizational and psychological factors will be presented, addressing the question: What are the challenges for Work and Organizational Psychologists in this respect?

Fred R.H. Zijlstra, PhD, is professor for Work and Organizational Psychology at Faculty of Psychology and Neuroscience at Maastricht University, and member of the General Board of the Dutch Professional Association of Psychologists (NIP). He is former Editor of the European Journal of Work & Organizational Psychology. His current research focuses on the relationship between work and health for both: people with good health (recovery from work), and people with poor health conditions (return to work after absence).

Invited Symposia

Occupational Health Psychology: Stress, Resources, and Health
Chair: Norbert K. Semmer, Ph.D., University of Bern, Switzerland

The rise of psychological reasons for early retirement has increased awareness of the need to study work in terms of its potential effects on psychological health and well-being. Occupational Health Psychology focuses on these issues, investigating aspects of working life in terms its risks of impeding, but also of its potential to foster, psychological health and well-being, as well as the numerous mediating and moderating factors. Intended as a complement to Fred Zijlstra's keynote on Work, Health and Disability, and as a complement  to the - more practically oriented - symposium on Working Conditions and Mental Health (Chair: C. Antony), the symposium tries to summarize research, and research challenges, across a number of important issues. After an introduction by Norbert K. Semmer (Bern) into historic developments, Sandra Ohly (Kassel) will focus on recent developments with regard to stressors, and Laurenz L. Meier (Fribourg, Switzerland) on social issues. Christian Dormann (Mainz) will present a topic the importance of which is increasingly being emphasized: the role of time. Much of research in OHP being questionnaire-based, Petra Wirtz (Konstanz) will talk about biological indicators. Dieter Zapf (Frankfurt) will go into methodological issues of measurement, design, and analysis. The contribution by Alexandra Michel (Berlin) will focus on challenges and results from intervention studies, and Cornelius König (Saarbücken) will broaden the perspective by tying together issues of work, personal characteristics, and private circumstances.

  1. The Development of Occupational Health Psychology: Issues and Findings
    Norbert K. Semmer, Ph.D., University of Bern, Switzerland

    The term "Occupational Health Psychology" (OHP) has established itself in the last few  decade;. its traditions, however, go back much further. Not only is Taylor's work still relevant today, and so is research that followed, focusing on issues such as job rotation, job enrichment, and socio-technical systems. Similarly, issues of working time and pauses have a long tradition, as documented, for instance, in the Health of Munition Workers Committee in Great Britain (est. 1915), and by work in Germany (Graf). Sweden (Frankenhaeuser), and the Netherlands (Meijman). This work has laid he basis for the work on recovery that it so prominent now. Work on vigilance is another example, starting in Great Britain with the development of radar monitoring. The basically positive side of work, and the potentially devastating effects of not having work and being unemployed, have been emphasized by Jahoda and her colleagues from the early thirties. Most early developments focused on industrial labor (cf. Kornhauser's classic book "Mental Health  of the Industrial Worker"). OHP now is much broader, in terms of sectors (e.g. the service and health sectors) as wel as issues (e.g., work-life balance). But it can in many ways build on early work, and many issues that were hotly debated early on keep reappearing in new variants (e.g., Industry 4.0).

  2. Stressors: Recent Developments
    Sandra Ohly, Ph.D., University of Kassel, Germany

    In recent years, work has undergone major changes due to modern technology, increasing international collaboration and market demands. These changes brought about increasing stress in some occupations. In this talk, prominent stressors such as time pressure, interruptions, complexity, and job insecurity are presented, and their impact on working individuals is reviewed. Furthermore, the recent approach to classify stressors into challenges and hindrances will be discussed. Finally, a new perspective on task as the unit of analyses for future research on stress at work will be presented.

  3. Social Aspects: Antisocial behavior, conflict, and appreciation
    Laurenz L.Meier, Ph.D., University of Fribourg, Switzerland

    Social aspects are among the most pervasive infuences on well-being at work. This contribution will focus on antisocial behavior, conflict, and appreciation as stressors and resources at work.

  4. Aspects of Time: Short-term, long-term, and the role of recovery
    Christian Dormann, Ph.D., University of Mainz, Germany

    A number of scholars have recently called for a more explicit consideration of time in work and health research. Indeed, the theoretical as well as methodological role of time has rarely been dealt with yet. This is surprising because a wide range of research designs and statistical methods that vary in their use of time have been applied. I propose that designs and methods on the one hand and theory on the other hand are frequently not well aligned. I reason that distinguishing short-term from long-term stress reactions should be augmented with a similar distinction with regard to demands and resources. This is important because demands and resources change over time as stress reactions change, and recovery plays an important role in these dynamic changes. Further, I will argue that changes in constructs that need a long time to develop (e.g., depression) can nevertheless been related to frequently changing variables such as recovery theoretically as well as empirically. 

  5. Biological aspects: Promising Avenues
    Petra Wirtz, Ph.D., University of Konstanz, Germany

    The usefulness of biological measures is increasingly recognized in occupational health psychology. The presentation focuses on biological “wet lab” parameters measured in body fluids such as saliva or blood with a special focus on endocrine and immune measures. Different parameters are presented with respect to methodological constraints, their meaning from a physiological point of view, and practical implications for laboratory and field studies. Finally, findings from occupational health psychology studies will be summarized.

  6. Methodological Aspects: Measurement, Design, Analysis
    Dieter Zapf, Ph.D., University of Frankfurt, Germany

    Reviews on occupational stress and health traditionally have focused on causality and self-report problems. The need for longitudinal and  quasi-experimental studies has repeatedly been claimed. A classical  means to overcome the self-report problem is measuring stressors and  resources by observation and expert rating. This approach, however,  seems limited in the measurement of social and emotional stressors and  resources and mental work. One way out is measuring stressors and  resources at the group level to overcome individual biases. A review  of the state of the art of these various methods will be presented.

  7. How much of it is Work-Related? Work, Private Circumstances, and Person Factors
    Cornelius König, Ph.D., Saarland University, Germany

    If an organization notices heightened stress levels among at least some of its employees, it is not uncommon that the management asks who is to blame: the organization or the employee? The answer to this question has obvious practical implications -- and obviously needs a more sophisticated answer than just “the organization” or “the employee.” Thus, this talk aims at suggesting answers to this question by taking pertinent research (partly from my own research) into account. In particular, I will discuss the importance of personality traits like neuroticism for the perception of stress and its genetic underpinning. Furthermore, I will touch the possibility that private circumstance such as conflict at home will interfere with work (i.e., family-to-work conflict). In the last part of this talk, I will discuss how work on the one side and person factors and private circumstances on the other side likely interact in the prediction of stress perception and stress reactions.

  8. Intervention: Concepts and Findings
    Alexandra Michel, Ph.D., Federal Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, Germany

    Interventions are notoriously difficult, sometimes successful but often not. Although the situation is improving, there is not a great number of high quality studies, and more research is needed on process aspects. The contribution will highlight aspects that seem to be crucial for success.


Working Conditions and Mental Health
Chair: Conny Antoni (Trier University)

This symposium presents key results of a large research project of the Federal Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (BAuA) on the relationship between working conditions and mental health, and their implications for work design. Therefore, the scoping review considers besides scientific criteria also the practical relevance of study results.

  1. Working Conditions and Mental Health: Conceptual and Methodological Design
    Martin Schütte, Armin Windel
  2. Job Latititude and Completeness
    Ulrike Rösler, Elisa Bradtke
  3. Emotion Work
    Ina Schöllgen, Anika Schulz
  4. Job Insecurity
    Birgit Köper,  Susanne Gerstenberg
  5. Atypical Working Times
    Monischa Amlinger-Chatterjee
  6. Detachment
    Johannes Wendsche, Andrea Lohmann-Haislah
  7. Work-Life-Balance
    Anne Marit Wöhrmann