In the Public Interest

Twenty years ago, APA and the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) partnered to bring national recognition to psychological disorders as one of the nation’s 10 leading work-related diseases and injuries. Working together, the two groups have brought considerable national attention to the psychological health of American workers and led employers, policymakers and others to better understand that occupational stress is a major occupational safety and health concern.

Indeed, the APA/NIOSH collaboration has been a fruitful one. In addition to creating a conference series that presents the latest research on the causes and effects of stress and how to control it, the partnership has led to the development of occupational health psychology training programs in 13 major U.S. universities, the formation of the Society for Occupational Health Psychology (SOHP) and the Journal of Occupational Health Psychology.

In November in San Juan, Puerto Rico, APA, NIOSH and SOHP convened the eighth international conference, “Work, Stress, and Health 2009: Global Concerns and Approaches,” where almost 800 of the world’s leading researchers and practitioners participated in 94 paper sessions, symposia and roundtable discussions and 218 poster presentations. The University of Puerto Rico was the host co-sponsor and its active participation was invaluable. The increasing conference participation is clear recognition of the growth in importance of the field of occupational stress.

The 2009 conference focus on global concerns and approaches was especially timely in light of the worldwide economic downturn. The number of countries affected by this financial crisis demonstrates the interconnectedness of world economies. As would be expected, these business downturns have had a tremendous impact on job security and job loss. Research has shown that stress on the job brought about by organizational changes, including downsizing, the restructuring of jobs and job insecurity, put workers at risk for hypertension, cardiovascular disease, alcohol and substance abuse, and other psychological and behavioral disorders. Several conference presentations offered insights on the psychological and biological effects of job stress, the psychosocial work environment, the work and family balance/interface, as well as global and regional perspectives on worker health. A limited number of CD-ROMs of conference abstracts are still available. (E-mail for a copy.)

Workplace violence is also on the rise as a result of the global economic hardships. Conference presenters noted that this trend may have long-term, negative consequences for worker well-being, job satisfaction and organizational commitment. Several sessions focused on the causes and consequences of workplace aggression, including bullying, incivility, violence and harassment.

Work stress research has been largely led by researchers from Europe, the United States, Canada and Japan. More recently, however, a growing research network has developed in Central and South America, and the November conference was planned to feature our Latin American colleagues. The Puerto Rico venue was selected with this in mind, and the conference for the first time also had simultaneous translation of English and Spanish for a number of key sessions. The Latin-American Network of Researchers in Psychosocial Factors, a multi-country group of experts studying psychosocial health and job stress among Latin Americans, has been credited for much of the occupational health growth in this region. Student involvement is also an integral part of the conference. One of their more popular sessions addressed Careers in Occupational Health Psychology, which was popular not just among students.

The next international conference on occupational stress and health, “Work, Stress, and Health 2011: Work and Well-Being in an Economic Context,” will be held in Orlando, Fla., May 19–22, 2011. This conference will give special attention to economic aspects of job stress. Information will be available soon at the Work, Stress and Health Office.

It is rare to be part of the emergence of an entirely new field. Each time we meet, I still marvel at the continued growth, new areas of research and important findings that help improve the lives of our nation’s workers.