For Work / Against Work
Debates on the centrality of work

"The relationships between work characteristics and mental health: Examining normal, reversed and reciprocal relationships in a 4-wave study"

by De Lange*, A H; Taris, T W; Kompier, M A J; others (2004)


This longitudinal study examined the causal relationships between job demands, job control and supervisor support on the one hand and mental health on the other. Whereas we assumed that work characteristics affect mental health, we also examined reversed causal relationships (mental health influences work characteristics). Further, the topic of the appropriate time lag for testing causal relationships was addressed. Our hypotheses were tested in a 4-wave study among a heterogeneous sample of 668 Dutch employees using structural equation modelling. The results provide evidence for reciprocal causal relationships between the work characteristics and mental health, although the effects of work characteristics on well-being were causally predominant. The best model fit was found for a 1-year time lag. Compared to earlier*/predominantly cross-sectional*/results, the present study presents a stronger case for the effects of work characteristics on the development of strain. The results also emphasize the need for a dynamic view of the relationship between work and health; the onedirectional viewpoint in many work stress models does not seem to fully capture the relations between work characteristics and well-being.

Key Passage

The most important practical lesson that follows from the more dominant normal causal relationship between the DCS characteristics and mental health is that interventions directed at decreasing job demands, and increasing job control or social support of supervisors may improve the mental health of employees (see also Kompier & Taris, 2004; Semmer, 2003). However, the reciprocal relationships found between work and mental health indicate that, in general, professionals in the field of work and organizational psychology should bear in mind that well-being may affect work characteristics as well. Scientifically, our results revealed that the associations between work characteristics and health should not be construed as the result of a one-directional process in which work characteristics influence health. Although for those employees who stay in the same type of work (‘stayers’) this normal causal process seems to be the most prominent, our results appear to confirm earlier findings that health also influences workers’ job conditions. The results of this study thus indicate that the one-directional view in the original DCS model and similar models may be too narrow. Karasek and Theorell (1990, p. 99) also underscored the importance of using a broader perspective for the relationship between work and health, and proposed a dynamic version of the Demand-Control model, which integrates environmental effects with person-based information (such as self-esteem). Our results seem to be consistent with this dynamic view in which work has effects on strain levels of the employee, but in which it is also possible that health indicators influence work characteristics. (p.163)


Longitudinal Research, Demand Control Support Model, Well-Being, Causation, Reciprocal Relationships, Structural Equation Modelling.


Psychological Centrality of Work

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