As exposure to psychosocial hazard at work represents a substantial risk factor for employee health in many modern occupations, being able to accurately assess how employees cope with their working environment is crucial. The workplace is generally accepted as being a dynamic environment, therefore, consideration should be given to the interaction between employees and the acute environmental characteristics of their workplace. The purpose of this paper is to investigate the effects of both acute demand and chronic work-related psychosocial hazard upon employees through ambulatory assessment of heart rate variability and blood pressure.
A within-subjects repeated measures design was used to investigate the relationship between exposure to work-related psychosocial hazard and ambulatory heart rate variability and blood pressure in a cohort of higher education employees. Additionally the effect of acute variation in perceived work-related demand was investigated.
Two dimensions of the Management Standards were found to demonstrate an association with heart rate variability; more hazardous levels of “demand” and “relationships” were associated with decreased standard deviation of the normal-to-normal interval. Significant changes in blood pressure and indices of heart rate variability were observed with increased acute demand.
This is the first attempt to combine the Health and Safety Management Standards Indicator Tool with physiological assessment of employees. The results provide evidence of associations between scores on the indicator tool and ambulatory heart rate variability as well as demonstrating that variation in acute perceived work-related demand is associated with alterations to autonomic and cardiovascular function. This has implications not only for employee health and workplace design but also for future studies employing ambulatory physiological monitoring.