Remarkable changes in the working situation have led to the increasing importance of psychomentally and socio-emotionally demanding conditions at work. With the help of theoretical models, those highly prevalent psychosocial work environments were conceptualized which influence the risk of coronary heart disease by enhanced activation of the autonomic nervous system. One of the most prominent theoretical approaches, the job strain model, and a more recent approach, the effort-reward imbalance model, are discussed in the paper.
Findings from prospective and cross-sectional studies indicate that job strain and effort-reward imbalance at work define specific conditions of chronic work stress that are associated with an elevated risk of coronary heart disease (CHD). Respective multivariate odds-ratios range from 1.2 to 5.0 with respect to job strain, and from 1.5 to 6.1 with respect to effort-reward imbalance. These associations are explained neither by established behavioral or biomedical risk factors nor by physical and chemical hazards at work, rather they define independent, new work-related risk conditions. There is additional evidence that effort-reward imbalance may mediate the association of some traditional occupational exposures, such as shift work, with cardiovascular risk: in a cross-sectional study, prevalence odds ratios of hypertension and atherogenic lipids attributable to effort-reward imbalance were relatively highest among shiftworkers as compared to daytime workers. Preliminary results from intervention programs based on the theoretical models document favorable effects on health.
Information derived from theoretical models on psychosocial work environment may help to better identify populations at risk and to develop and apply specific, theory-guided preventive activities in the future.