WASHINGTON — If you still have a job in this economy, you’re supposed to feel grateful. But stress is what more people tend to feel at work these days, and a new study finds that for those who experience such strain on the job, the risk of developing heart disease increases by about 25 percent.
That elevated heart attack risk, however, is less high than has been widely supposed, the authors of the new study wrote Thursday in the journal Neurology. While addressing workplace stress might help improve employees’ health, they said, there’s lower-hanging fruit that would yield higher health benefits, including an expansion of efforts to get smokers to kick the habit.
Job stress is defined by high demands at work and/or a worker’s low level of control over work hours and conditions. A 2007 survey by the American Psychological Assn. found that three-quarters of Americans listed work as a significant source of stress, and more than half acknowledged that their productivity had suffered as a result of stress.
For employers, workplace stress is no bargain: Job stress is estimated to cost U.S. employers $300 million a year in absenteeism, lost productivity, higher turnover and added medical, legal and insurance fees.
The latest research is not a fresh study but a compilation of existing studies, some published in medical journals, others not. It gathers evidence of the link between job stress and heart disease from studies conducted in Finland, Denmark, Sweden, Belgium, France, the Netherlands and Britain. Some published studies have assessed the increased cardiovascular toll of stress on the job at 40 percent. But when unpublished studies were taken into consideration, the contribution of job stress to cardiovascular risk started to shrink.