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Does job stress lead to early death? Study explores

Bloomington, IN — Little job autonomy and low cognitive ability, combined with stressors related to workload and demands, can lead to depression and early death, results of a recent study show.

Using data from 3,148 Wisconsin residents who participated in the Midlife in the United States survey, researchers from Indiana University and Northern Illinois University looked at “how job control – or the amount of autonomy employees have at work” – and cognitive ability (people’s ability to learn and solve problems) “influence how work stressors such as time pressure or workload affect mental and physical health and, ultimately, death.”

The researchers found “when job demands are greater than the control afforded by the job or an individual’s ability to deal with those demands, there is a deterioration to their mental health and, accordingly, an increased likelihood of death,” Erik Gonzalez-Mulé, assistant professor of organizational behavior and human resources at the IU Kelley School of Business, said in a May 19 press release.

Conversely, when workers had more autonomy, they experienced better physical health and a lower likelihood of death.


“We believe that this is because job control and cognitive ability act as resources that help people cope with work stressors,” Gonzalez-Mulé said. “Job control allows people to set their own schedules and prioritize work in a way that helps them achieve their work goals, while people that are smarter are better able to adapt to the demands of a stressful job and figure out ways to deal with stress.”

The study was published online April 9 in the Journal of Applied Psychology.

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