Stress and Work Intensification: What Is the Influence of Personnel Policy?

Thursday, 2 July 2015: 2:15 PM-3:45 PM
TW1.3.04 (Tower One)
Michael Beckmann, University of Basel, Basel, Switzerland
Elena Shvartsman, University of Basel, Basel, Switzerland
This paper investigates the determinants of work intensification and work-related stress. Special attention is given to the role of human resource management practices. The goal is to identify a bundle of practices that creates or mitigates work intensification and stress. Work-related stress can lead to substantial health problems. At the same time work-induced (mental) health problems pose an increasing challenge for establishments as they result in immense costs. Therefore the identification of stress causing human resource management practices is of great relevance for firm performance.

Most related studies focus on single personnel policy measures or are conducted using small data samples. To our knowledge this is the first study aiming to answer the proposed questions utilizing a large representative household data set and considering an entire bundle of personnel policy measures. The data are collected on the individual level thus allowing to control for a huge number of stress causing factors not related to work, which permits a better disentanglement of work-related and private stress triggers.

The theoretical framework of this work is given by the Job Demand-Control Model (Karasek, 1979) and the Effort-Reward Imbalance Model (Siegrist, 1996). Both models predict that an unfavourable combination of workload and responsibility or reward is detrimental to individuals’ health. In line with these theories we propose that human resource management practices that are associated with a heavy workload and low rewards lead to higher stress levels.

The analysis is conducted using data from the German Socio-Economic Panel (SOEP). The SOEP is an annual longitudinal survey of about 22,000 individuals living in about 12,000 private households. The questionnaires cover a wide range of individual and job-related characteristics, including variables on health and individual well-being. In order to tackle our research question we utilize the SOEP waves of 2003 to 2011, where the particular choice of used waves depends on the availability of relevant analysis variables. In order to catch the relevant dependent variables we utilize information on perceived work-related strain and intensification (e.g. “high amount of work”, “working under time pressure”, “sleeping problems due to work”). Explanatory variables capturing human resource management practices are for instance „performance appraisals“, “expected promotions”, „fixed-term contracts“, „flexible working time“ or benefits that could interfere with an individual’s leisure.

Our identification strategy relies on a fixed-effects approach that accounts for time-invariant individual-specific effects. We utilize interactions of human resource management variables to account for bundles that could foster stress.

We expect to see a significant health impairing effect of certain practice bundles on work-related strain. First empirical evidence supports our hypotheses. For instance performance evaluations and long working hours are associated with higher work-related strain, while a perceived fair wage seems to mitigate individual stress levels.


Karasek Jr., Robert A., “Job demands, job decision latitude, and mental strain: Implications for job redesign,” Administrative Science Quarterly, 1979, 24 (2), 285–308.

Siegrist, Johannes, “Adverse health effects of high-effort/low-reward conditions,” Journal of Occupational Health Psychology, 1996, 1 (1), 27–41.