Job Autonomy Helps but High Status Jobs = Stress and Pressure

By Rick Naurert PhD
October 2nd, 2022
Medically reviewed by Paul Sietes, MD.

Job Autonomy Helps but High Status Jobs = Stress and PressureA new Canadian study finds  that while many  seek challenging work and greater levels of authority, some people  may not understand these workplace characteristics can have negative consequences.

Dr. Scott Schieman, a sociologist from the University of Toronto, measured a range of work conditions using data from a national survey of 6,004 Canadian workers.

To measure levels of job pressure, he asked study participants questions such as: “How often do you feel overwhelmed by how much you had to do at work?” “How often do you have to work on too many tasks at the same time?” and “How often do the demands of your job exceed the time you have to do the work?”

Schieman discovered that roughly one-third of Canadian workers report that they “often” or “very often” feel overwhelmed by work or that the demands of their job exceed the time to do the work.

Four out of 10 workers report having to work on too many tasks at the same time “often” or “very often.”

“Excessive job demands have detrimental effects,” said Schieman. “We know that workers who report higher scores on these indicators of job pressure also tend to experience more problems navigating work and family roles, more symptoms of physical and mental health problems and they tend to be less satisfied with their work.”

While the study found that having control over one’s work schedule and job autonomy are associated with lower levels of job pressure, the challenging nature of today’s job requirements often override these benefits — especially when an individual is performing managerial tasks.

Experts say it is common for individuals to be in a setting where one is required to keep learning new things, engage in creative activities, use skills and abilities and handle a variety of tasks.

These job demands are associated with higher levels of job pressure as is being in a position of authority where one is supervising or managing others.

Three key indicators of higher socioeconomic status (SES) — education, higher status occupations (executives or professionals) and income — were each independently associated with greater job pressure.

“However, those with high SES face greater pressure mostly because of their more challenging work and greater levels of authority,” said Schieman.

“These findings speak directly to the idea of the stress of higher status. People talk these days about being ‘crazy busy’ and not having enough time to do all the things at work that need to get done.

But being ‘crazy busy’ isn’t randomly distributed in the population. This study demonstrates an unexpected price for higher SES and more control at work –and that price is excessive pressure in the workplace.”

The article is published in the journal Social Science Research.

Source: University of Toronto

Dr. Rick Naurert has over 25 years experience in clinical, administrative and academic healthcare. He is currently an associate professor for Rocky Mountain University of Health Professionals doctoral program in health promotion and wellness. Dr. Naurert began his career as a clinical physical therapist and served as a regional manager for a publicly traded multidisciplinary rehabilitation agency for 12 years. He has masters degrees in health-fitness management and healthcare administration and a doctoral degree from The University of Texas at Austin focused on health care informatics, health administration, health education and health policy. His research efforts included the area of telehealth with a specialty in disease management.