Psychosocial factors and economic recession: the Stormont Study

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Abstract

Background Little research has explored changes in workers’ psychosocial hazard exposures, work-related stress and stress-related absence associated with the onset of unprecedented severe economic recession. Knowledge of these could inform psychosocial risk management measures appropriate to austere economic times.

Aims To examine civil servants’ psychosocial hazard exposures, work-related stress and stress-related absence during a period of economic recession, relative to levels prior to the onset of this period.

Methods Analyses compared the findings of two surveys of employees of the Northern Ireland Civil Service conducted in 2005 (n = 17 124), prior to the onset of recession, and in 2009 (n = 9913), during a period of economic recession.

Results Psychosocial hazard exposures were significantly worse during the recession than prior to it. These results are considered in relation to UK government exposure targets. Work-related stress and absence ascribed to work-related stress were significantly greater during recession than prior to it.

Conclusions This study demonstrates adverse changes in psychosocial hazard exposures, work-related stress prevalence and stress-related sickness absence associated with the onset of an unprecedented economic recession. Its findings indicate the need for a concerted focus on psychosocial risk management activities during austere economic times as a means by which to promote worker health and minimize sickness absence.

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