How High Job Demands Can Actually Lower Your Stress

“How can I be less stressed at work?” Almost all employees at one time or another have asked this burning question, but not many have found the magic bullet to solve it. One potential answer may lie in Robert Karasek’s job demands-control model (JD-CM), which was developed to explain how different levels of job demands and control could influence strain, job satisfaction, and learning in the workplace. In order to fully understand this model, it is important to see that strain is the result of an imbalance between job demands  and job control within an organization.

Job Demands, Control, and Where Your Job Fits In

In this model, jobs are categorized into four types. The first type of job is “high-strain”. As can be surmised from the name, this type of job has high work demands and little control, which may prevent completing work on time and performing the job well. Employees can run out of resources and stamina if their job is constantly one of “high-strain”. The second type of job is an “active job”.  This work has high demands and high control, and allows for greater satisfaction since intellectual demands allow workers to increase their competencies and personal growth. The third type of job is a “passive job”. This type of job has low demands and low control, which could result in worker boredom and subsequent loafing. The last type of job is one of low demands and high control. Not many positions of this nature exist. Can you figure out what type of job you have?


Karasek’s (1979) Job Demands-Control Model

What Does My Job Type Mean for Me?

Some studies have found that active jobs produced the highest level of self-efficacy, mastery, learning, job involvement, job satisfaction, and job commitment in an employee. On the other hand, other research has shown that high job demands were ultimately detrimental, since they required too much attention from employees for them to focus on learning new tasks. Having low job demands may lead employees to focus more on acquiring new skills, without the distraction of high work demands. This inconsistency surrounding the effects of high job demands may arise because different ideas of work control were being measured in each study. To put this in more understandable terms, objective measures of demands and control predicted more physical outcomes such as increased absence. Subjective measures predicted more emotional outcomes, such as job satisfaction. Depending on which type of control was measured, a different outcome in terms of understanding job demands may result. What this means for workers is that high levels of both subjective and objective control, coupled with high job demands, can create a more rewarding and less stressful organizational environment.

Takeaway for your practice

Employees want to be busy! They want to be challenged! They do not, however, want a stifling lack of control that impedes their flow and creativity. The high demands of today’s workforce are leading increasingly, and alarmingly, to more employees burning out than ever before. This burnout leads to higher turnover, which is never advantageous for an organization. By incorporating the ideas of the JD-CM model (supplemented with its two extensions), and giving employees more control and decision latitude over how they set up performance goals and ultimately perform their work, employees can lower their stress and gain a sense of well-being. A rejuvenated workforce can be more productive, not only in terms of tasks completed, but also in terms of organizational citizenship behaviors performed.  Can the answer to being less stressed lie in the tenets of the JD-CM?

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Perrewe, P. (2010). Karasek’s (1979) Job Demands-Control Model: A Summary of Current Issues and Recommendations for Future Research. In New developments in theoretical and conceptual approaches to job stress. Bingley: Emerald.

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  1. Pingback: Burnt Out at Work? 3 Strategies for Coping with Workplace Stress - Physician scheduling software and communications: