Occupational Stress and Mental Health Symptoms: Examining the Moderating Effect of Work Recovery Strategies in Firefighters

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Abstract

The goal of this research was to examine the moderating effect of work recovery strategies on the relationship between occupational stress experienced by firefighters and mental health symptoms. Work recovery strategies were identified through semistructured interviews with 20 firefighters and a literature search on recovery strategies. A total of 7 work recovery strategies emerged using the 2 methods: work-related talks, stress-related talks, time with coworkers/supervisor, exercise, recreational activities, relaxation, and mastery experiences. Using a prospective study design with a 1-month time interval in a sample of 268 firefighters, experienced occupational stress at Time 1 was positively related to mental health symptoms at Time 2. In addition, with the exception of spending time with coworkers/supervisor, exercise and mastery experiences, recovery strategies at Time 1 were negatively related to mental health symptoms at Time 2. Lastly, all work recovery strategies, except stress-related talks and relaxation, moderated the relationship between experienced occupational stress at Time 1 and mental health symptoms at Time 2. Specifically, the positive relationship between experienced occupational stress and mental health symptoms was stronger when firefighters engaged in low, rather than high, work recovery strategies. Implications for research and practice are discussed.

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