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In the age of globalisation and digitalisation, a worldwide movement towards more networked organisation structures and fast moving societies is linked to an increase in responsibilities and workloads for many employees. The resulting demands may lead to psychological and physical health problems[1]. This is why there is a growing need to focus on job demands and their associated outcomes, such as worker health, well-being and performance. The following article focuses on job demands and their relationship with safety, health and well-being outcomes.

Key concepts

Job demands are all physical, psychological, social or organisational aspects of a job that require continuous physical and/or psychological (i.e. cognitive or emotional) effort[2]. A job demand may lead to positive as well as negative outcomes depending on the demand itself as well as on the individual’s ability to cope with it. Positive responses may be motivation, stimulation or job satisfaction while negative responses can be depression, anxiety or burnout. Job demands have been identified as one of the most common sources of work-related stress[3]. Job demands turn into stressors when fulfilling the demands requires a level of skills, motivation and energy from the employee which is more than he or she can provide. Long work hours and demanding work shifts, high time pressure, emotionally demanding interactions with clients or customer, ergonomic problems, insecurities about the use of digital technology and poor physical conditions, for example, have a high risk of leading to stress and negative long-term consequences. Job demands can be characterised in several categories, and in a variety of different ways. But it is important to note that these categorisation systems are not discrete and, therefore, are inter-related in their meaning to a certain degree. 

The negative short- and long-term effects of job demands may be buffered by job resources like control over the work process, appreciation or skill variety and personal resources such as self-efficacy[4]. Job resources contain all physical, psychological, social, or organisational aspects of a job that either reduce job demands and the associated psychological and physiological costs, are functional in achieving work goals or stimulate personal growth, learning and development[2]. Just as job demands, job resources basically comprise cognitive, emotional and/or physical components. Cognitive job resources are, for example, handbooks but also colleagues providing information, whereas emotional components embrace colleagues providing sympathy and affection. Ergonomic aids are ranked on the physical component of job resources[5]. Other examples for job resources include social support from colleagues or supervisors, feedback, autonomy and opportunities for skill development and also personal factors and characteristics such as hope, self-efficacy and optimism[6]. Several studies have shown that job resources have a stress-buffering effect and particularly have motivational potential when job demands are high[4]. So job resources are conceptually similar to coping options; they can mostly be conceptualised as a kind of energetic reservoir that can be tapped when the individual has to cope with stressful stimuli. 

The job quality framework developed by Eurofound[7] to monitor the working conditions in Europe, distinguishes 6 dimensions with job demands and job resources. The concept includes the characteristics of work and employment that have been proven to have a causal relationship with health and well-being. It takes into account both positive and negative aspects of the job, thereby encompassing the demands placed on workers as well as the resources available to them for managing those demands effectively[7] [8]

Table: Dimensions of job quality and corresponding job demands and job resources 

Dimension  Job demands Job resources 
Physical and social environment Physical risks Social support 
Physical demands 
Intimidation and discrimination 
Job tasks Work intensity Task discretion and autonomy 
Organisational characteristics Dependence (self-employed only) Organisational participation and workplace voice 
Working time arrangements Unsocial work schedules Flexibility of working hours 
Job prospects Perceptions of job insecurity Training and learning opportunities 
Career advancement 
Intrinsic job features  Intrinsic rewards 
Opportunities for self-realisation 

Mental strain

“Strain is defined as the potential psychological, physical, and behavioural outcome of perceived mental workload.” [9]. When workers are confronted with job demands they may experience mental strain as a consequence[10] . Mental strain is not negative itself, but it may lead to negative consequences, such as impairments of mental or physical health. These negative consequences will only become apparent when the perceived demands imposed by the job do not match the perceived ability or qualification of an employee or worker[11]. For example, if an employee is demanded to handle toxic materials, but doesn’t know how to protect himself appropriately, he or she will suffer from fear or stress. It is important to take into account that the effects of mental strain can either be facilitating or impairing. Furthermore, a distinction has to be made between short-term and long-term consequences of mental strain. 

Facilitating effects (short-term)

The short-term facilitating effects of mental strain are warming-up-effects and activation. The warming-up effect is a common result of mental strain. It refers to the fact that soon after an activity has started, results in a reduction of the effort required to perform that activity compared to the effort initially required[12]

Activation is an internal resulting in increased mental and physical activity. Mental strain can lead to different degrees of activation, depending on its duration and intensity. The ideal level of activation, which ensures the highest level of functionality, should not be too low or too high. A sudden enhancement of mental strain may lead to an adverse over-activation[12]. 

Facilitating effects (long-term)

The long-term facilitating effect of mental strain is, for example, competence development. This strain-related consequence of an active engagement with a task is a complex form of learning involving the acquisition, consolidation, enhancement and/or differentiation of cognitive, emotional, social and motor skills and abilities[12].

Impairing effects (short term)

According to ISO 10075[12] short term impairing effects of mental strain are mental fatigue, monotony, reduced vigilance, mental satiation and stress response.

Mental fatigue is the temporary impairment of mental and physical functional efficiency, depending on the intensity, duration and temporal pattern of the preceding mental strain. This reduced functional efficiency is manifested, for example, in feelings of fatigue, an imbalance between performance and effort, type and frequency of errors[12]

Monotony is a slowly developing state of reduced activation that may occur during long uniform, repetitive tasks or activities and which is mainly associated with drowsiness, tiredness, decrease and fluctuations in performance, reduction in adaptability and responsiveness, as well as an increase in variability of heart rate[12]

Reduced vigilance is a slowly emerging state with reduced signal detection performance at observation tasks (e.g. radar or instrument panel observations). The impact is very similar to monotony[12].

Mental satiation is a nervous and unsettled state, containing a strong emotional rejection towards a repetitive task or a situation that creates a feeling of “marking time” or “not getting anywhere”. Additional symptoms may be anger, decreased performance, and/or feelings of tiredness, and a tendency of withdraw[12]

Stress response refers to a state experienced by individuals characterised by increased mental and/or physical activation resulting from their negative interpretation of the mental stress to which they are exposed as threatening their goals and/or values. It can occur when individuals are engaged in tasks or using tools under time constraints that they perceive as jeopardising or preventing successful task completion, leading to anticipated negative outcomes. According to this definition, the stress response is inherently negative, as it stems from the individual's negative interpretation of the mental stress in relation to their available resources[12]

Impairing effects (long term)

The extent of long term, impairing effects of mental strain ranges from the domain of mental health problems to more serious mental disorders, such as: clinical depression or anxiety. Furthermore burnout is predicted, which in turn may lead to various negative outcomes such as physical illness, labour turnover, absenteeism, and early retirement. Other organisational outcomes of mental strain include: decreased performance, increased rate of accidents and an increased likelihood of looking for alternative employment[2]. In periods of increased strain individuals may enhance their smoking and consumption of alcohol[13] .Eating disorders, family problems and violence are further examples for impairing long term effects[14]. Moreover impairing long term effects of mental strain are associated with increased risk of sleep disturbance, infectious disease, musculoskeletal complaints, asthma, suppressed immune functioning, the risk of stroke, elevated blood pressure, hypertension and coronary heart disease[15] .


Job demands – resources model

The Job Demands-Resources (JD-R) model was introduced by Demerouti, Bakker, Nachreiner, and Schaufeli in 2001 as a theoretical framework to understand the relationship between work characteristics, employee well-being, and performance. This model suggests that job characteristics can be categorised into two broad categories: job demands and job resources. The JD-R model emphasises the importance of both reducing job demands and increasing job resources to enhance employee well-being and performance. Since its introduction in 2001, it has served as a theoretical framework for numerous studies, surveys as well as practical guidance and work-related stress management approaches. The JD-R model has also been further developed to gain a better understanding of the underlying mechanisms and different elements of the model (figure 1)[4].

Figure 1: Job Demands-Resources (JD-R) model




Impact on health and well-being

The association between job demands and job resources also emerges from the results of the European Working Conditions Telephone Survey (EWCTS, 2021)[8]. Based on the job quality framework, the relation between job demands and job resources and indicators such as well-being, work life balance and the risk of safety and health, has been analysed. The results are shown in figure 2 below. The results demonstrate that, in general, job demands are negatively associated with health and well-being indicators and job resources, positively. 

Figure 2: Association between job quality, job demands and job resources and well-being and quality of working life indicators




Job demands and job resources can be influenced by measures of prevention and may be divided into three types: primary, secondary and tertiary preventive measures [16]

Primary prevention

Primary prevention interventions include reducing physical-environmental and psychosocial conditions conducive to stress and strengthening organisational resources (social support, and control), as well as individual resources (qualification, fitness, coping abilities etc.)[17]. The OSH framework directive 89/391/EEC[18]introduces the principle of risk assessment and defines its key elements (e.g. hazard identification, worker participation, introduction of adequate measures with the priority of eliminating risk at source, documentation and periodical re-assessment of workplace hazards). Practical experience shows that such approaches may be developed best in workshops that include employees and/ or their representatives[16]. Measures that will be agreed on may, for example, contain ergonomic redesign of work equipment, freedom to take breaks when necessary or restructuring work tasks at particular workplaces. Individual resources may be increased by offering skill or stress management trainings, exercise programmes or help at keeping up work-life balance (e.g. flexible working time, reduced working hours, switch from full-time to part-time employment, subsidised childcare).

The overall goal of primary prevention is to avoid the impairing effects mentioned above. Specific design guidelines for measures of prevention should take into account the effects, which are intended to influence fatigue, monotony, vigilance or satiation[19] . For example the enhancement of intensity and duration of workload exponentially leads to fatigue. This is why the duration of working time should match the intensity of workload. In this case a physical job resource is for instance a rest time between sequential working days or working shifts. The rest time needs to be long enough to ensure an entire recovery of fatigue. A further job resource is the employees’ control of their working conditions[20]. If the employees’ control is high, they are able to arrange their rest time autonomously; which will help to avoid impairing effects like fatigue. To get emotional support from colleagues in terms of encouragement and sponsorship to deal with emotional demands (such as palliative care), a harmonic, conflict-free relationship between employees’ must be reliable. Role ensures that there are no conflicting roles and that employees understand their role within the organisation and change includes the management and communication of organisational change (large or small). The challenge is to motivate organisations to investigate into primary prevention programmes even when there are no work-related health problems.

Secondary prevention

Secondary prevention addresses those workers that show first signs of negative health implications. Its aim is to prevent exacerbation of the symptoms. Unlike primary prevention, secondary preventive measures concentrate on individuals and their specific job situation. When a worker shows first signs of an illness, responsible persons in the organisation have to figure out if work demands are related to the health problems or if the individual skills of the worker may be enhanced[21]. As a result, either demands need to be changed (e.g. organisational changes or changes in task distribution) or employees need to be strengthened in their resources to be able to deal with the demands. 

Tertiary prevention

Finally, tertiary prevention focuses on employee assistance[22] . The goal is to heal those who have suffered long-term negative effects associated with work[18]. It is also important to avoid further impairing effects. Employee assistance programmes are addressing e.g. drug abuse, personal crises, marital and family problems and with a broader perspective impending retirement and relocation[22]

Conclusion and summary

In view of globalisation and digital transition, job demands and their consequences for employee’s health and the job productivity gain more and more importance. In summary, this article integrates job demands into the context of work-related stress and the concept of mental workload and mental strain. Job demands include work aspects, that affect the worker’s mental and physical state. If the immediate effect of mental workload is positive (i.e. facilitating effects) or negative (i.e. impairing effects) depends on the individual perceived resources and coping styles of an individual. Job demands can also be regarded as challenges. Therefore, the target is not to reduce but to optimise job demands. Job resources are an important factor to help employees to deal with job demands. They have to be adequate to the job demands (e.g. high job demands require high resources). The support of job resources is considered in primary, secondary and tertiary prevention programs with the goal to balance job demands and job resources, resulting in a healthy and productive work environment. 

Použitá literatura

[1] DeFrank, R. S., & Ivancevich, J. M., ‘Stress on the job: An executive update.’, Academy of Management Executives, Vol. 12, 1998, pp. 55-66.

[2] Schaufeli, W. & Bakker, Ar., ‘Job demands, job resources, and their relationship with burnout and engagement: a multi-sample study.’ Journal of Organizational Behaviour, Vol. 25, 2004, pp. 293-315. Available at: https://doi.org/10.1002/job.248 

[3] Workplace Health and Safety Queensland, ‘Work demands', Department of Justice and Attorney-General, Queensland, 2012.

[4] Bakker, A. B., & Demerouti, E. Job demands–resources theory: Taking stock and looking forward. Journal of occupational health psychology, 2017, 22(3), 273. Available at: https://psycnet.apa.org/record/2016-48454-001 

[5] de Jonge, J. & Dormann, C. (2013). Demand-Induced Strain Compensation Model.

[6] Luthans, F., ‘The need for and meaning of positive organization behavior.‘, Journal of Organizational Behavior, Vol. 23, No. 6, 2002, pp. 695-706

[7] Eurofound. Working conditions and sustainable work: An analysis using the job quality framework, Challenges and prospects in the EU series, 2021. Available at: https://www.eurofound.europa.eu/publications/flagship-report/2021/working-conditions-and-sustainable-work-an-analysis-using-the-job-quality-framework 

[8] Eurofound. Working conditions in the time of COVID-19: Implications for the future, European Working Conditions Telephone Survey 2021 series, 2022. Available at: https://www.eurofound.europa.eu/publications/report/2022/working-conditions-in-the-time-of-covid-19-implications-for-the-future 

[9] Barling, J. (1990), ‘Employment stress and family functioning’. New York: Wiley.

[10] Lazarus, R. S. & Folkman, S. (1984). ‘Stress, appraisal and coping’. New York: Springer Publishing Company Inc.

[11] EU-OSHA – European Agency for Safety and Health at Work. Psychosocial risks and stress at work. Webpage. Available at: https://osha.europa.eu/en/themes/psychosocial-risks-and-stress 

[12] ISO 10075-1:2017. Ergonomic principles related to mental workload — Part 1: General issues and concepts, terms and definitions

[13] Grunberg, L., Moore, S., Greenberg, E., & Anderson-Connolly, R. , ‘Work stress and self-reported alcohol use: The moderating role of escapist reasons for drinking’. Journal of Occupational Health Psychology, 4, 1999, pp. 29-36.

[14] Kelloway, E. K. & Day,A. L., ‘Building Healthy Workplaces: What We Know So Far’, Canadian Journal of Behavioural Science, Vol. 37, No. 4, 2005, pp. 223-23.

[15] Schat, A., & Kelloway, E. K., ‘Effects of perceived control on the outcomes of workplace aggression and violence.’, Journal of Occupational Health Psychology, Vol. 5, 2003, pp.386-402.

[16] Israel, B. A., Baker, E. A., Goldenhar, L. M., Heaney, C. A. & Schurman, S. J., ‘Occupational Stress, Safety, and Health: Conceptual Framework and Principles for Effective Prevention Interventions.’, Journal of Occupational Health Psychology, Vol. 1, No. 3, 1996, pp. 261-286.

[17] Quick, J. C., Murphy, L. R., Hurrell, J. J., & Orman, D., ‘The value of work, the risk of distress, and the power of prevention.’, J. C. Quick, L. R. Murphy, & J. J. Hurrell, Jr. (Eds.), ‘Stress and well-being at work: Assessments and interventions for occupational mental health’, Washington, DC: American Psychological Association, 1992, pp. 3-13.

[18] Framework Directive 89/391/EEC on the introduction of measures to encourage improvements in the safety and health of workers at work. Available at: https://osha.europa.eu/en/legislation/directives/the-osh-framework-directive/1 

[19] Richer, P. & Hacker, W. (1998). ‚Belastung und Beanspruchung - Stress, Ermüdung und Burnout im Arbeitsleben‘. Asanger Verlag, Heidelberg.

[20] HSE - Health and Safety Executive, What are the Management Standards?. Available at: https://www.hse.gov.uk/stress/standards/ 

[21] Kilian, R., & Becker, T., ‚‘Die Prävention psychischer Erkrankungen und die Förderung psychischer Gesundheit‘. In: Kirch W., Badura B. (Hrsg.) Prävention. Ausgewählte Beiträge des Nationalen Präventionskongresses. Dresden, 1. und 2. Dez. 2005. Heidelberg: Springer. S. 443-472)

[22] EU-OSHA – European Agency for Safety and Health at Work. Research on Work-Related Stress. Report, 2000. Available at:  https://osha.europa.eu/en/publications/report-research-work-related-stress 

Další informace

EU-OSHA – European Agency for Safety and Health at Work. OSH Pulse - Occupational safety and health in post-pandemic workplaces. Report, 2022. Available at: https://osha.europa.eu/en/publications/osh-pulse-occupational-safety-and-health-post-pandemic-workplaces

EU-OSHA – European Agency for Safety and Health at Work. E-guide to managing stress and psychosocial risks. Available at: https://osha.europa.eu/en/tools-and-resources/e-guides/e-guide-managing-stress-and-psychosocial-risks

EU-OSHA – European Agency for Safety and Health at Work. Healthy workers, thriving companies - a practical guide to wellbeing at work. Guide, 2018. Available at: https://osha.europa.eu/en/publications/healthy-workers-thriving-companies-practical-guide-wellbeing-work

EU-OSHA- European Agency for Safety & Health at Work. Expert forecast on emerging psychosocial risks related to occupational safety and health, Report, 2007, pp. 49-58. Available at: https://osha.europa.eu/en/publications/report-expert-forecast-emerging-psychosocial-risks-related-occupational-safety-and-health-osh

Eurofound. Working conditions and sustainable work: An analysis using the job quality framework, Challenges and prospects in the EU series, 2021. Available at: https://www.eurofound.europa.eu/publications/flagship-report/2021/working-conditions-and-sustainable-work-an-analysis-using-the-job-quality-framework


Juliet Hassard

Birkbeck, University of London, United Kingdom.

Tom Cox

Marlen Cosmar

Richard Graveling

Ugur Aydemir

Karla Van den Broek

Prevent, Belgium