Can Work Make You Sick? A Meta-Analysis of Job Stressor-Physical Symptom Relationships

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stress, physical symptoms, organizational constraints, interpersonal conflict, role stressors, workload, work hours, meta-analysis, work-related stress

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A meta-analysis of 79 studies reporting cross-sectional and longitudinal relationships between physical symptoms and various occupational stressors was conducted. Stressors were organizational constraints, interpersonal conflict, role conflict, role ambiguity, workload, work hours, and lack of control. The relationships between stressors and eight physical symptoms were quantitatively summarized and contrasted, for both individual symptoms and composite symptom scales. All of the occupational stressors were significantly related to physical symptoms in cross-sectional analyses, and the effect sizes of these relationships varied both by the stressor and the individual symptom examined. The longitudinal relationships were similar to the cross-sectional results, and provided some evidence of temporal consistency of the occupational stressorphysical symptom relationship. Organizational constraints and interpersonal conflict had the strongest relationships with symptoms in both the cross-sectional and longitudinal analyses. Gastrointestinal problems and sleep disturbances were significantly related to more stressors than other symptoms examined. These findings show that it is important to examine physical symptoms, as they are related to a wide range of job stressors and these relationships prevail over time. Potential underlying mechanisms, including the immediacy of physiological reactions to stressors, participants’ attributions concerning stressor–physical symptom relationships, and the possible multidimensional nature of symptoms, are proposed and discussed.

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An International Journal of Work, Health & Organisations, v. 25, issue 1, p. 1-22.