The study examines trends in work-related stress and exhaustion between 1997 and 2005 among employees in 13 countries and aims to identify the social and market forces underlying these trends. We argue that investigating the degree to which workers perceive their jobs as stressful or exhausting (indicators of job strain) has advantages over studying perceived job demands (antecedents of job strain). Analysis of comparative data from the International Social Survey Programme revealed that job strain is fairly prevalent affecting about 30–40 % of the workforce. Patterns of change over time varied substantially across countries and occupational groups. In most countries work stress has not increased between 1997 and 2005, two notable exceptions being Ireland and Slovenia. Work-related exhaustion has risen to a significant degree in the Czech Republic, Denmark and Hungary. There was also evidence that job strain has declined among high-level managerial, professional and technical workers in some countries. The findings suggest that protective institutions may help to mitigate job strain while rapid economic development increases workers’ risk of experiencing job strain.
This is a preview of subscription content, log in to check access.
Buy single article
Instant access to the full article PDF.
Price includes VAT for USA
Subscribe to journal
Immediate online access to all issues from 2019. Subscription will auto renew annually.
This is the net price. Taxes to be calculated in checkout.
Between 2005 and 2010, the shares of workers who agree that their ‘job involves working at very high speed’ (at least a quarter of the work time), for instance, has decreased by more than 5 %-points in Belgium, Denmark, Portugal and Sweden, while it has increased by more than 5 %-points in Cyprus, France, Hungary and Ireland. It has remained stable (plus/minus 2 %-points) in Austria, Bulgaria, Germany, Italy, Latvia, The Netherlands, Slovakia, Slovenia and the UK.
The authors of that report conceptualize high ‘work intensity’ as a negative contribution to job quality, yet in line with the approach taken in this study, they acknowledge that the association of work intensity with job quality may be ambiguous.
Handel (2005: 75) finds that respondents who report that their ‘work is often stressful’ or that they often ‘come home from work exhausted’ tend to be less satisfied with their jobs, while those who report that they work hard tend to be more satisfied.
Data on working conditions that would allow for the analysis of time trends since the onset of the recession in 2008 are available from the European Social Survey (ESS) and the European Working Conditions Survey (EWCS). These data can be used for studying trends in job demands, work pressure and intensity (e.g., Gallie and Zhou 2013) but they do not allow for an analysis of trends in work stress that would go beyond 2005. Cross-national studies of levels of (not trends in) work stress can be carried out using the fifth EWCS (data for 2010) that introduced a new indicator of work stress.
In 2005, seven countries carried out face-to-face interviews (Czech Republic, Hungary, Portugal, Slovenia, Switzerland and the US), four administered self-completion surveys by mail (Denmark, France, Norway, Sweden) while Germany and Britain combined face-to-face interviews with self-completion of parts of the questionnaire with interviewer involvement.
Lack of sufficient detail prevents the calculation of exact response rates in the ISSP (see Harkness et al. 2001: 2). In the 13 countries covered by the analysis in this study, approximated response rates (completed cases divided by issued sample) in 2005 were above 60 % in four countries (Denmark, Portugal, Slovenia and Sweden) and above 40 % in all remaining countries but Germany (37 %). In 1997, approximated response rates surmounted 40 % in all countries (and were above 60 % in eight). For France no comparable rates of response can be calculated (reports of implausibly high ‘issued samples’).
Between 2005 and 2011 about 2,400 research papers have been produced using ISSP data, see www.issp.org.
For these descriptive analyses, the data is weighted using the sample weight provided in the ISSP, that does not account for occupational distributions, combined with an additional weight that accounts for the occupational composition of the ISSP samples. This additional weight has been computed drawing on country-specific information from the OECD on the occupational composition of the workforce and its change over the observation period (details available upon request).
The cultural understanding of survey questions can be assumed to have remained stable between 1997 and 2005 and the survey methodology is more similar across time than across countries. In the majority of cases the survey methodology did not change across survey waves. The exceptions are Denmark, where face-to-face interviews in 1997 have been replaced by a mail survey in 2005, Germany and Switzerland, where mail surveys have been replaced by face-to-face interviews in 2005, and the US, where self-completion with interviewer involvement has been replaced by face-to-face interviews in 2005.
Bakker, A. B., & Demerouti, E. (2007). The job demands-resources model: State of the art. Journal of Managerial Psychology, 22(3), 309–328.
Bakker, A. B., Schaufeli, W. B., Leiter, M. P., & Taris, T. W. (2008). Work engagement: An emerging concept in occupational health psychology. Work & Stress, 22, 187–200.
Barker, J. R. (1993). Tightening the iron cage: Concertive control in self-managing teams. Administrative Science Quarterly, 38(3), 408–437.
Benach, J., Mutaner, C., Benavides, F. G., Amable, M., & Jodar, P. (2002). A new occupational health agenda for a new work environment. Scandinavian Journal of Work, Environment & Health, 28(3), 191–196.
Braverman, H. (1974). Labor and monopoly capital: The degradation of work in the twentieth century. New York: Monthly Review Press.
Burchell, B., & Fagan, C. (2004). Gender and the intensification of work. Eastern Economic Journal, 30(4), 627–642.
Burchell, B., Ladipo, D., & Wilkinson, F. (Eds.). (2002). Job insecurity and work intensification. London: Routledge.
Capelli, P., Bassi, L., Katz, H., Knoke, D., Osterman, P., & Useem, M. (1997). Change at work. How American industry & workers are coping with corporate restructuring and what workers must do to take charge of their own careers. New York and Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Clark, A. E. (2005). Your money or your life: Changing job quality in OECD countries. British Journal of Industrial Relations, 43(3), 377–400.
Cully, M., Woodland, S., O’Reilly, A., & Dix, G. (1999). Britain at work: As depicted by the 1998 Workplace Employee Relations Survey. London: Routledge.
De Jonge, J., van Vegchel, N., Shimazu, A., Schaufeli, W., & Dormann, C. (2010). A longitudinal test of the demand-control model using specific job demands and specific job control. International Journal of Behavioral Medicine, 17(2), 125–133.
De Lange, A. H., Taris, T. W., Kompier, M. A. J., Houtman, I. L. D., & Bongers, P. M. (2003). “The very best of the millennium”: Longitudinal research and the demand-control-(support) model. Journal of Occupational Health Psychology, 8(4), 282–305.
Dollard, M. F., & Winefield, A. H. (2002). Mental health: Overemployment, underemployment, unemployment and healthy jobs. Advances in Mental Health, 1(3), 170–195.
Dreher, A., Gaston, N., & Martens, P. (2008). Measuring globalisation—Gauging its consequences. New York: Springer.
Eurofound. (2012). Trends in job quality in Europe. Luxembourg: Publications Office of the European Union.
Eurofound. (2013). European Working Conditions Survey [online data]. www.eurofound.europa.eu/surveys/smt/ewcs/results.htm. Accessed 1 September, 2013.
Gallie, D. (2005). Work pressure in Europe 1996–2001: Trends and determinants. British Journal of Industrial Relations, 43(3), 351–375.
Gallie, D., White, M., Cheng, Y., & Tomlinson, M. (1998). Restructuring the employment relationship. Oxford: Clarendon Press.
Gallie, D., & Zhou, Y. (2013). Job control, work intensity, and work stress. In D. Gallie (Ed.), Economic crisis, quality of work, and social integration: The European experience. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Gallie, D., Zhou, Y., Felstead, A., & Green, F. (2012). Teamwork, skill development and employee welfare. British Journal of Industrial Relations, 50(1), 23–46.
Glavin, P., & Schieman, S. (2012). Work-family role blurring and work-family conflict: The moderating influence of job resources and job demands. Work and Occupations, 39(1), 71–98.
Goos, M., Manning, A., & Salomons, A. (2009). Job polarization in Europe. American Economic Review: Papers and Proceedings, 99(2), 58–63.
Gorman, E., & Kmec, J. A. (2007). We (have to) try harder: Gender and workers’ assessment of required work effort in Britain and the United States. Gender & Society, 21(6), 828–856.
Green, F. (2001). It’s been a hard day’s night: The concentration and intensification of work in late twentieth-century Britain. British Journal of Industrial Relations, 39(1), 53–80.
Green, F. (2006). Demanding work: The paradox of job quality in the affluent economy. Princeton: Princeton University Press.
Green, F. (2012). Employee involvement, technology and evolution in job skills: A task-based analysis. Industrial and Labor Relations Review, 65(1), 35–66.
Green, F., & McIntosh, S. (2001). The intensification of work in Europe. Labour Economics, 8(2), 291–308.
Handel, M. J. (2005). Trends in perceived job quality, 1989 to 1998. Work and Occupations, 32(1), 66–94.
Harkness, J., Langfeldt, B., & Scholz, E. (2000). ISSP Study Monitoring 1997, report to the ISSP General Assembly on monitoring work undertaken for the ISSP by ZUMA, Germany, Mai 2000. http://www.gesis.org/issp/overview/reports/.
Heisig, J. P. (2011). Who does more housework: rich or poor? A comparison of 33 countries. American Sociological Review, 76(1), 74–99.
Hox, J. (2005). Multilevel analysis. Techniques and applications. New York and Hove: Routledge.
Ilies, R., Dimotakis, N., & de Pater, I. E. (2010). Psychological and physiological reactions to high workloads: Implications for well-being. Personnel Psychology, 63(2), 407–436.
ISSP Research Group. (2013). International Social Survey Programme: Work orientation III-ISSP 2005. GESIS Data Archive, Cologne. ZA4350 Data file Version 2.0.0. doi:10.4232/1.11648.
Kalleberg, A. L., Nesheim, T., & Olsen, K. M. (2009). Is participation good or bad for workers? Effects of autonomy, consultation and teamwork on stress among workers in Norway. Acta Sociologica, 52(2), 99–116.
Karasek, R. A. (1979). Job demands, job decision latitude, and mental strain: Implications for job redesign. Administrative Science Quarterly, 24(2), 285–308.
Kim, Y.-H. (2002). A state of art review on the impact of technology on skill demand in OECD countries. Journal of Education and Work, 15(1), 89–109.
Kmec, J. A., & Gorman, E. (2010). Gender and discretionary work effort: Evidence from the United States and Britain. Work and Occupations, 37(1), 3–36.
Kuper, H., & Marmot, M. (2003). Job strain, job demands, decision latitude and risk of coronary heart disease within the Whitehall II study. Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health, 57(2), 147–153.
Lewis, J. B., & Linzer, D. A. (2005). Estimating regression models in which the dependent variable is based on estimates. Political Analysis, 13(4), 345–364.
Lindeberg, S. I., Rosvall, M., Choi, B., Canivet, C., Isacsson, S. O., Karasek, R., et al. (2011). Psychosocial working conditions and exhaustion in a working population sample of Swedish middle-aged men and women. European Journal of Public Health, 21(2), 190–196.
OECD. (2008). Education at a glance 2008. Paris: OECD Publications.
Oesch, D., & Rodríguez Menéz, J. (2011). Upgrading or polarization? Occupational change in Britain, Germany. Spain and Switzerland. Socio-Economic Review, 9(3), 503–532.
Olsen, K. M., Kalleberg, A. L., & Nesheim, T. (2010). Perceived job quality in the United States, Great Britain, Norway and West Germany, 1989–2005. European Journal of Industrial Relations, 16(3), 221–240.
Pejtersen, J. H., & Kristensen, T. S. (2009). The development of the psychosocial work environment in Denmark from 1997 to 2005. Scandinavian Journal of Work, Environment & Health, 35(4), 284–293.
Ramsay, H., Scholarios, D., & Harley, B. (2000). Employees and high-performance work systems: Testing inside the black box. British Journal of Industrial Relations, 38(4), 501–531.
Russell, H., & McGinnity, F. (2013). Under pressure: The impact of recession on employees in Ireland. British Journal of Industrial Relations. doi:10.1111/bjir.12018.
Scholz, E., Harkness, J., & Faaß, T. (2008). ISSP Study Monitoring 2005. Report to the ISSP General Assembly on monitoring work undertaken for the ISSP by GESIS-ZUMA, Germany, March 2008. http://www.gesis.org/issp/overview/reports/.
Siegrist, J. (1996). Adverse health effects of high effort-low reward conditions at work. Journal of Occupational Health Psychology, 1(1), 27–43.
Snijders, T., & Boskers, R. (1999). Multilevel analysis. An introduction to basic and advanced multilevel modeling. London: Sage.
Sonnentag, S., & Bayer, U.-V. (2005). Switching off mentally: Predictors and consequences of psychological detachment from work during off-job time. Journal of Occupational Health Psychology, 10(4), 394–414.
Spitz-Oener, A. (2006). Technical change, job tasks, and rising educational demands: Looking outside the wage structure. Journal of Labor Economics, 24(2), 235–270.
Strazdins, L., D’Souza, R. M., Lim, L. L.-Y., Broom, D. H., & Rodgers, B. (2004). Job strain, job insecurity, and health: Rethinking the relationship. Journal of Occupational Health Psychology, 9(4), 296–305.
Van Vliet, O., & Caminada, K. (2012). Unemployment replacement rates dataset among 34 welfare states 1971–2009: An update, extension and modification of the Scruggs’ Welfare State Entitlements Data Set, NEUJOBS Special Report No. 2, Leiden University.
Visser, J. (2009). Database on institutional characteristics of trade unions, wage setting, state intervention and social pacts in 34 countries between 1960 and 2007 (ICTWSS, version 2.1, January 2009). Amsterdam Institute for Advanced Labour Studies.
Wichert, I. (2002). Job insecurity and work intensification: The effects on health and well-being. In B. Burchell, D. Lapido, & F. Wilkinson (Eds.), Job insecurity and work intensification (pp. 92–111). London: Routledge.
Part of this research was carried out while Nadia Steiber was a Marie Curie Fellow at the European University Institute (EUI) in Florence, Italy. The support is gratefully acknowledged. An earlier version of this article was presented at the ILLR Conference on the Quality of Jobs at Cornell University. We are grateful to the conference participants for their constructive comments.
About this article
Cite this article
Steiber, N., Pichler, F. Trends in Work Stress and Exhaustion in Advanced Economies. Soc Indic Res 121, 215–239 (2015). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11205-014-0633-7
- Comparative study
- Job demands
- Job strain
- Work stress