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Implications of changing work conditions for well-being and how accumulation and sensitisation effects of workload impact fatigue

Published: 12-10-2023

We recently published two papers testing fundamental stress processes over time across multiple longitudinal samples. In the first study, we found that employees are more strongly affected by losses in work quality than gains which has relevant implications for how we think about interventions and job redesign. In the second study, we found that employees are resilient to short-term stress pile-up. Although we found consistent support for negative effects of high workload within one day, these effects did not pile up (i.e., accumulate) across days or the work week, lending further support to the importance of recovery experiences.

On the Asymmetry of Losses and Gains: Implications of Changing Work Conditions for Well-Being
There is ample evidence that work conditions affect employees’ well-being. Losses in work quality (increased job stressors and reduced job resources) are thought to be related to deteriorations in well-being, whereas gains in work quality (reduced job stressors and increased job resources) are believed to improve well-being. The way most previous studies tested linkages between work conditions and well-being assumes that as much as a loss in work quality harms well-being, a gain in work quality results in an improvement. However, Hobfoll’s conservation of resources (COR) theory argues that losses have a stronger impact than gains do. To date, this assumption still awaits a thorough empirical test. Using data from three longitudinal studies (Ns = 10,756, 579, and 2,441), we investigated the effects of changes in work conditions on well-being. Changes in work conditions were related to changes in well-being, and these relationships were weaker with longer time lags. Moreover, in line with COR theory, our analyses suggested that the effect of a loss in work quality was generally stronger than the effect of a gain. Interestingly, however, we found a more consistent pattern for the effect of certain stressors (e.g., social stressors) than others (e.g., workload). By testing a central principle of COR theory, this research advances theoretical understanding of how work affects well-being. Furthermore, by revealing that previous studies may have underestimated the detrimental effects of deteriorating work conditions and overestimated the positive effects of improved work conditions on well-being, this research also has implications for organizational interventions.

You can find the full paper here.


It’s a new day – is it? Testing accumulation and sensitisation effects of workload on fatigue in daily diary studies
Studies investigating the stressor–strain relation using daily diary designs have been interested in within-person deviations that predict well-being outcomes on the same day. These models typically have not accounted for the possibility of short-term accumulation (i.e. previous stressor experiences having a lasting effect and affecting strain on subsequent occasions) and sensitisation (i.e. previous stressor experiences amplifying subsequent reactions to stressors) effects of stressors such as workload across days. In this study, we test immediate, accumulation, and sensitisation effects of workload on fatigue within and across days using four diary studies (mean observations = 1,406; mean N = 166). In all four studies, we observed that workload had positive concurrent effects on fatigue. In addition, we found that workload had positive effects on fatigue within one day. However, there was insufficient support for short-term accumulation or sensitisation effects, implying that higher levels of workload on previous days did not directly affect or amplify the effect of workload on fatigue on that day. We discuss implications for recovery theories and potential future avenues to refine the theoretical propositions that describe intra-individual stress and recovery processes across days.

You can find the full paper here.