Interpersonal relations at work as well as individual factors seem to play prominent roles in the modern labour market, and arguably also for the change in stress symptoms. The aim was to examine whether exposures in the psychosocial work environment predicted symptoms of cognitive stress in a sample of Danish knowledge workers (i.e. employees working with sign, communication or exchange of knowledge) and whether performance-based self-esteem had a main effect, over and above the work environmental factors.
349 knowledge workers, selected from a national, representative cohort study, were followed up with two data collections, 12 months apart. We used data on psychosocial work environment factors and cognitive stress symptoms measured with the Copenhagen Psychosocial Questionnaire (COPSOQ), and a measurement of performance-based self-esteem. Effects on cognitive stress symptoms were analyzed with a GLM procedure with and without adjustment for baseline level.
Measures at baseline of quantitative demands, role conflicts, lack of role clarity, recognition, predictability, influence and social support from management were positively associated with cognitive stress symptoms 12 months later. After adjustment for baseline level of cognitive stress symptoms, follow-up level was only predicted by lack of predictability. Performance-based self-esteem was prospectively associated with cognitive stress symptoms and had an independent effect above the psychosocial work environment factors on the level of and changes in cognitive stress symptoms.
The results suggest that both work environmental and individual characteristics should be taken into account in order to capture sources of stress in modern working life.