Yet tight deadlines, never-ending piles of work and low decision latitude were found to raise blood pressure levels in a study presented at the Fourth International Conference on Work Environment and Cardiovascular Diseases in March by Els Clays, of the department of public health at Ghent University in Belgium. This study, which used the same questionnaire, revealed a relationship between these job strain categories and blood pressure levels.
In this study, 126 men and women completed the questionnaire and wore an ambulatory blood pressure monitor for a 24-hour period on an average workday. The researchers found that people with high job strain had higher blood pressure levels—a major heart disease risk factor—during the workday and even when they were asleep.
In a third study of 2,821 people also presented at the Work Environment and Cardiovascular Diseases conference, the BELSTRESS researchers found that low decision latitude made it harder for men to quit smoking, regardless of how much money they made or how much they smoked. Job strain was not found to affect female workers' ability to kick the habit.
So the next time you're evaluating whether your job is good for you, especially if you already have heart disease or are at risk for it, consider your health as well as the size of your paycheck. Does your job give you the opportunity to develop new skills and to organize your work yourself? Do you have the authority to make decisions? Do your coworkers and boss make you laugh more often than they make you want to punch the wall?
"The general message, especially for people who are already at risk, is to take these work factors into account when assessing heart disease risk," Clays says. "Most cardiologists look at classic risk factors [such as cholesterol levels], but the larger environment has to be taken into account."