In the Public Interest

Have you been feeling overly stressed at work recently? If so, a National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health document shows that you are among some 40 percent of workers reporting their jobs to be "very" or "extremely" stressful. There is increasing evidence suggesting that stress plays an important role in several types of chronic health problems such as cardiovascular disease, musculoskeletal disorders and psychological disorders such as depression.

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics notes the median length of time employees are out of work due to a stress-related disability exceeds that of almost all other injuries and illnesses. Health-care costs are nearly 50 percent greater for workers reporting high levels of stress in comparison to those who claim to be "risk free." Yet we often fail to give our level of work stress, and that of our employees or clients, the serious consideration it is due. Factors such as work overload; long hours of work; job insecurity; unsupportive co-workers or supervisors; work/family conflict; harassment; inability to make decisions regarding work; and unsafe or unpleasant physical environments are some of the most frequent causes of work stress. Recent data from the International Labor Office show the average annual working hours in the United States exceed the average for Japan and most European countries. According to a Northwestern National Life study, employed women report nearly twice the levels of stress-related illness and burnout on the job as their male counterparts. In addition to the fact that many of the classic job stressors (high job demands, low control, role ambiguity and conflict) are prevalent in many predominantly female occupations, women often have the added stress of trying to balance family and work.

Because work stress has potentially devastating consequences for human welfare and is an area in which the science and practice of psychology has much to offer, it has been a major concern for the Public Interest Directorate. In March, we joined once again with the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) for the sixth APA-NIOSH international interdisciplinary conference, "Work, Stress and Health 2006: Making a Difference in the Workplace." This year we were also joined by the National Institute on Disability and Rehabilitation Research (NIDRR) and the National Institute of Justice (NIJ)--whose participation is but one indication of the growing number of individuals and agencies recognizing the critical importance of the workplace and work stress to the health and well-being of workers and employers.

APA and NIOSH began this collaborative relationship in 1988. At that time, Dr. Steven Sauter, a psychologist at NIOSH, approached APA to enlist our support in translating the NIOSH Strategy for the Prevention of Work-Related Psychological Disorders into practical action steps and to encourage psychologists to have a larger presence in the occupational safety and health arena. This collaboration has been instrumental in achieving those objectives and much more.

Given the increasing number of individuals with disabilities in the country and in the work force, the participation of NIDRR was timely and welcome. Although our Office on Disability Issues has been actively working with NIDRR, we hope that we can continue to build upon this relationship in the future. Likewise, NIJ, with responsibility for police officers and others in highly stressful jobs, has become a natural catalyst for addressing work-stress issues. As would be expected, a number of this year's conference sessions focused on the effects of Hurricane Katrina and other disasters, particularly as they affected first responders.

In addition to the series of international conferences, our partnership with NIOSH spurred the creation of training grants in occupational health psychology (OHP), thus providing key support in growing this new field. OHP integrates industrial and organizational psychology, health psychology and human factors with other areas of psychology and allied disciplines. Although the collaborative agreement funding the training grants has ended, faculty and students from OHP programs and others interested or involved in OHP have formed the Society for Occupational Health Psychology (SOHP). Contact SOHP President Dr. Peter Chen via email for membership and other SOHP information. The Journal of Occupational Health Psychology (JOHP) also resulted from the APA/NIOSH collaboration. JOHP, edited by Dr. Lois Tetrick, is the preeminent OHP journal.

Although I frequently experience work stress, I am aware of how fortunate I am to have a job that I love, a "healthy workplace" and a CEO who has as one of his priorities making APA a great place to work. I am proud that Public Interest and other directorates within APA (Science, Practice and Education) recognize and have been actively involved in efforts to bring psychological knowledge to improving the lives of our nation's workers. I am also proud to have been a part of developing OHP, the field that has and continues to apply "psychology to improving the quality of work life and to protecting and promoting the safety, health and well-being of workers."