Men who experience job strain — and who report putting in high effort only to receive little reward — have twice the risk of heart disease compared to those who do not have those psychological stressors, according to a new study by Canadian researchers.
The impact of this combination of stressors on the risk of coronary heart disease is similar to that of obesity, the study authors noted.
The study was published this week in the American Heart Association (AHA) journal Circulation: Cardiovascular Quality and Outcomes.
Previous research has shown that job strain and high effort with low reward are psychological stressors that have been linked separately to heart disease risk.
Yet few studies have examined the effect of the combination of these factors, the researchers stated in their discussion of the findings.
“Job strain refers to work environments where employees face a combination of high job demands and low control over their work,” lead study author Mathilde Lavigne-Robichaud, a doctoral candidate at CHU de Quebec-University Laval Research Center in Quebec, Canada, said in a news release.
“High demands can include a heavy workload, tight deadlines and numerous responsibilities, while low control means the employee has little say in decision-making and how they perform their tasks.”
“Effort-reward imbalance” occurs when employees invest high effort into their work, but they perceive the rewards they receive in return — such as salary, recognition or job security — as insufficient or unequal to the effort, the researcher went on.
“For instance, if you’re always going above and beyond, but you feel like you’re not getting the credit or rewards you deserve, that’s called effort-reward imbalance,” Lavigne-Robichaud said.
The investigators followed nearly 6,500 white-collar workers in Canada — 3,118 men and 3,347 women — with education levels varying from no high school diploma to a university degree, for a period of 18 years, from 2000 to 2018.
The average age of the workers was 45 years old and none had previously been diagnosed with heart disease.
They held a wide range of jobs in Quebec, including senior management, professional, technical and office support roles.
The researchers used questionnaires to measure job strain and effort-reward imbalance among the participants. They also looked at heart disease information from existing health databases, the release stated.
Men who reported experiencing job strain and effort-reward imbalance had a 49% higher risk of heart disease compared to men who did not experience these psychological stressors.
The impact of work stress on women’s heart health was inconclusive.
“Our results suggest that interventions aimed at reducing stressors from the work environment could be particularly effective for men and could also have positive implications for women, as these stress factors are associated with other prevalent health issues, such as depression,” Lavigne-Robichaud said in the release.
Some interventions might include promoting work-life balance, improving communication and empowering employees to have more control over their work, as well as providing support resources, the researcher added.
“Men need to find connections outside the workplace to help alleviate stress,” said Christine MacInnis, a licensed marriage and family therapist in Torrance, California, who was not involved in the study.
“Women also experience high degrees of work stress, but find support, solace and a place to vent their struggles through close friendships,” she told Fox News Digital. “Men tend to compartmentalize and internalize their feelings rather than share them, so they have nowhere to go.”
“Stress internalized leads to health issues like diabetes and heart disease,” MacInnis added.
The study’s chief limitation is that the researchers studied men and women in white-collar jobs — primarily in Quebec, Canada — and might not fully represent the diversity of the American working population.
“The U.S. workforce is among the most stressed in the world, and these workplace stressors can be as harmful to health as obesity and secondhand smoke,” Dr. Eduardo J. Sanchez, chief medical officer for prevention at the American Heart Association, said in a news release.
“This study adds to the growing body of evidence that the workplace should be prioritized as a vehicle for advancing cardiovascular health for all,” he went on.
“The U.S. workforce is among the most stressed in the world, and these workplace stressors can be as harmful to health as obesity and secondhand smoke.”
The study’s inability to establish a direct link between job stressors and coronary heart disease in women warrants the need for further research into how different stressors affect female heart health, Lavigne-Robichaud said.
There are things people can do to mitigate their risks, Lavigne-Robichaud said in an interview with Fox News Digital.
“Individuals can prioritize advocating for healthier work conditions and open communication with their employers,” she said.
“Addressing workplace stressors collectively can contribute to a healthier work environment and reduced risks to heart health.”
Individuals who are concerned about their heart health should speak with their doctor, the researcher said.
“These discussions can include assessing broader cardiovascular risk factors and exploring strategies to reduce those risks,” she told Fox News Digital.
“It’s important to work collaboratively with a health care professional to create a personalized plan for heart health that considers both work-related and other risk factors.”
Heart disease is the leading cause of death in the U.S., according to American Heart Association statistics.
One person dies every 33 seconds in the U.S. from cardiovascular disease — and about 695,000 people in the country died from heart disease in 2021, the AHA stated.