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Key Study: Marmot’s
Stressed Civil Servants

Michael Marmot, Hans Bosma, Harry Hemingway, Eric Brunner & Stephen Stansfield (1997)

22 January 2013



BACKGROUND & AIMS: Marmot et al aimed to investigate the association between workplace stress and stress-related illness in male and female civil servants. This was part of the Whitehall studies where a number of different psychosocial characteristics of work were investigated to test their association with illness. This particular investigation focused on the negative correlation between job control and stress-related illness.

The researchers used the ‘Job-Strain Model’ which proposes the workplace leads to stress and illness in 2 ways:-

Marmot et al reasoned that, in the Civil Service, higher-grade employees would experience stress from high workload whereas low grade employees would experience stress from low job control.


PROCEDURE (METHOD): A sample of 10,308 civil servants aged 35-55 (6895 men (67%) and 3413 women (33%) were investigated in a longitudinal study over 3 years. Research methods included questionnaires and observation. Job control (an aspect of workplace stress) was measured through both a self-report survey and by independent assessments of the work environment by personnel managers, using job specifications and role responsibilities.. Job control was assessed on 2 occasions, 3 years apart. The self-report survey also covered workload and social support. Records were kept of stress-related illness and the participants were checked for signs of cardiovascular disease – eg: chest pains. A correlational analysis was carried out to test the association between job control and stress-related illness.


FINDINGS (RESULTS): Participants with low job control were 4 times more likely to die of a heart attack than those with high job control. They were also more likely to suffer from other stress-related disorders such as cancers, strokes and gastrointestinal disorders. These findings were consistent on both occasions that job control was measured and the association was still significant after other factors, such as employment grade, negative attitude to employment, job demands, social support, physical inactivity and risk factors for chronic heart disease had been accounted for.


CONCLUSIONS: The findings seem to show that low job control is associated with high stress, as indicated by the number of stress-related illnesses. There is an inverse social gradient in stress-related illness among British civil servants: as job control decreases so illness increases. In other words, the variables are negatively correlated. Implications include the responsibility of employers to address job control as a source of stress and illness. Giving employees more autonomy (freedom) and control may decrease stress-related illness, which would increase the efficiency and productivity of the workforce.

Other factors, such as workload or the degree of social support received at work, did not appear to be associated with the risk of heart disease.


CRITICISMS (EVALUATION):