How is Job Strain Linked To Mental Health?


It’s not rocket science. When we are stressed at work, our mental health is put under significant strain.

New research published today and led by the Black Dog Institute confirms workplaces that reduce job strain could prevent up to 14% of new cases of common mental illness from occurring.

Published in The Lancet Psychiatry, the results from the study confirm that high job strain is associated with an increased risk of developing common mental disorders such as depression and anxiety amongst middle-aged workers.

Job strain is a term used to describe the combination of high work pace, intensity, and conflicting demands, coupled with low control or decision-making capacity.

Lead author, Associate Professor Samuel Harvey from the Black Dog Institute explains that “Mental illness is the leading cause of sick leave/ absence and long-term work incapacity in Australia, equating to $11 billion lost to Australian businesses each year”.

“Our modelling used detailed data collected over 50 years to examine the various ways in which particular work conditions may impact an employee’s mental health.”

“These findings serve as a wake-up call for the role workplace initiatives should play in our efforts to curb the rising costs of mental disorders.

“It’s important to remember that for most people, being in work is a good thing for their mental health."

"But this research provides strong evidence that organisations can improve employee wellbeing by modifying their workplaces to make them more mentally healthy.” 

Examining 6870 participants, the international research team investigated whether people experiencing job strain at age 45 were at an increased risk of developing mental illness by age 50.

To determine levels of job strain, participants completed questionnaires at age 45 testing for factors including decision authority (the ability to make decisions about work), skill discretion (the opportunity to use skills during work) and questions about job pace, intensity and conflicting demands.

Was it really any surprise that the final assessment suggests that those experiencing higher job demands, lower job control and higher job strain were at greater odds of developing mental illness by age 50, regardless of sex or occupational class.

The researchers concluded by indicating that if we were able to eliminate job strain situations in the workplace, up to 14 percent of cases of common mental illness could be avoided.

I recognise that we are currently in a VUCA (Volatile, Uncertain, Complex and Ambiguous) landscape. But…. organisations can still take significant steps to manage job strain for staff despite this.

So, what can workplaces do to assist their staff manage job strain?

1)   Increase control.

Workplaces can find ways to increase workers’ perceived control of their work. This can be achieved through initiatives that involve workers in as many decisions as possible, reduce micromanagement and increase autonomy and responsibility.

2)   Utilise a Strengths Based approach.

It is actually in a workplaces best interests to ensure that staff are placed into work where they can use their strengths rather than be forced to perform tasks where they have neither skill nor will.

Studies quite clearly show the impact of formal performance review when a strengths based approach is used. Performance increases by over 36% when a strengths approach is utilised as compared to a decrease in performance of over 26% when there is an emphasis on performance weakness.

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3)   Be Proactive.

When workplaces are proactive, they can work with staff to prevent many workplace stressors from ever becoming an issue. Workplace and job strain can come from many different directions. Be proactive with staff to address workplace stressors, manage the physical and psychosocial work environment and manage change more productively. Consider changes in work pacing and job redesign, look at actually listening to your health and safety committees, consider stress prevention and developing the resilience of your teams.

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Want to know more about managing job strain and maximising mental health in your organisation? Send me an email at to enquire about coaching, training and wellbeing strategy.

Michelle Bakjac is an experienced Psychologist, Wellbeing Strategist, Leadership and Wellbeing Coach, Speaker and Facilitator. As Director of Bakjac Consulting, she is a credentialed Coach with the International Coach Federation (ICF) and a member of Mental Toughness Partners and an MTQ48 accredited Mental Toughness Practitioner.  Michelle assists individuals and organisations to develop their Mental Toughness to improve performance, leadership, behaviour and wellbeing.  You can find her at or