Advanced Knowledge Work and Stress-related Symptoms : Epidemiology and Clinical Intervention Studies

Abstract: Well educated knowledge workers are a growing group of the work force. Little research has been conducted on this group regarding possible work-related health symptoms, as well as interventions in order to reduce work-related stress. This thesis describes the current work-related symptoms and potential risk and salutogenic, i.e. protective factors, associated with these symptoms among software and system designers in a high tech company in Sweden. A stress management intervention program was launched in order to evaluate whether work-related stress might be a risk factors for these symptoms. It was also of interest to study the potential impact of stress management interventions on psychosocial work organizational factors. The thesis is based on cross sectional and longitudinal data. Paper I is focusing on risk factors for musculoskeletal symptoms and headaches, and their possible association with biological markers and self-reported physical and psychosocial work environmental factors. Paper II assessed the association between occupational psychosocial factors and psychosomatic symptoms i.e. mental fatigue, headache, restlessness, irritation, moodiness and difficulty concentrating. Paper III and IV evaluated the effects of a stress management program including three different stress reducing strategies, on musculoskeletal and skin symptoms as well as headaches, and on the perceived psychosocial work environment. The overall results indicate that psychosocial factors via stress sensitive hormones have an impact on employee health in a high technological work environment. Furthermore, stress management interventions, conducted as relaxation and mental training, had short-term favorable effects on some musculoskeletal and skin symptoms. It seems that competence and competence utilization among advanced knowledge workers are psychosocial work environmental factors that need to be take into consideration in future health preventive ventures.