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Healthy Work Environment

September 09, 2019


Perceived health and work-environment related problems and associated subjective production loss in an academic population

Introduction:
The aim was to investigate the prevalence of health problems and work environment problems and how these are associated with subjective production loss among women and men at an academic workplace. An additional aim was to investigate whether there were differences between women and men according to age group, academic rank or managerial position.
In the autumn of 2011, a cross-sectional study using a validated questionnaire was conducted among employees at a Swedish university. The aim was to assess and improve the work environment by assessing social and organizational factors and subjective production loss. All staff who had been employed at the university on at least 50% of a full time post and for a duration of at least six months at the time of the assessment, were invited to participate (n = 5143). The majority (n = 3207) were academic staff, i.e. researchers or teaching staff. The invitation was sent out by email and was followed by two reminders. The responses were anonymous for the employer and were forwarded directly to the research team. Participation was voluntary and written informed consent was obtained from all respondents. A total of 3515 employees responded. This specific study only includes employees employed as academic staff (n = 2022), with a response rate of 63%. Administrative staff were excluded from this study.

Prevalence of perceived health and work environment problems

A total of 819 academic employees (40% of the population) reported having experienced either health problems, work environment- problems or both during the previous seven days. The prevalence of the three problems was 21%, 8%, and 11% respectively (Table 1). The prevalence of health problems was significantly higher among women than men. The prevalence of experiencing both kinds of problems during the previous seven days was significantly higher for women than for men. Significant differences were also found between rank. For example, more senior researchers were less likely to report a combination of problems than were junior researchers. The highest prevalence of combined problems was found among teachers.
Table 1
Prevalence of perceived health problems, work environment problems and a combination of both problems in an academic population

Total population (n = 2022)
Health problems (n = 433)
p-value
Work environment problems (n = 170)
p-value
Both health and work environment problems (n = 216)
p-value
Total, n (%)
2022
433 (21)

170 (8)

216 (11)

Sex, n (%)


0.01 1

0.251

0.00 1
 Men
881
162 (18)

67 (8)

65 (7)

 Women
1141
271 (24)

103 (9)

151 (13)

Age, mean (sd)
41 (12)
41 (12)
0.721
41 (11)
0.881
40 (10)
0.121
Age, n (%)
 ≤29
328
71 (22)

28 (9)

36 (11)

 30–39
748
167 (22)

63 (8)

84 (11)

 40–49
423
86 (20)

35 (8)

53 (13)

 50–59
320
57 (18)

29 (9)

36 (11)

 ≥60
203
52 (26)

15 (7)

7 (3)

Manager, n (%)


0.301

0.151

0.321
 Yes
525
104 (20)

52 (10)

50 (10)

 No
1497
329 (22)

118 (8)

166 (11)

Rank, n (%)


0.471

0.791

0.01 1
 Professors
247
53 (21)

18 (6)

11 (4)

 Senior researcher
637
150 (20)

51 (17)

50 (9)

 Junior researcher
130
23 (18)

16 (12)

16 (12)

 PhD student
731
149 (20)

57 (8)

95 (13)

 Teacher
277
58 (21)

28 (10)

44 (16)

















































Production loss due to the problem

 Yes
364 (84)
158 (93)
213 (99)
 No
69 (16)

10 (6)

3 (1)

 Missing



2 (1)




The majority of those who reported problems said that these affected their ability to perform at work. Almost all employees experiencing work environment problems and combined problems (93% and 99% respectively) reported that their work performance was affected. This consequence was, however, smaller in the group which reported health problems only (84%).
Table 2 presents the prevalence of the different types of problems by gender. Health problems were more common among younger women (up to the age of 49) than among men in same age group. Health problems were also more prevalent among female PhD students, junior and senior researchers and teachers than among men in the same positions. They were also more prevalent among women than among men in non-managerial positions.

Table 2

Number of employees perceiving health problems, work environment or both types of problem, presented for men and women separately and by age, rank, managerial position

Total population (n = 2022)
Health problems (n = 433)
Work environment problems (n = 170)
Both types of problems (n = 216)

Men
Women
Men
Women
p-value1
Men
Women
p-value1
Men
Women
p-value1
Total, n (%)
881
1141
162 (18)
271 (24)

67 (8)
103 (9)

68 (8)
151 (13)

Age, n (%)




0.01


0.29


0.00
 −29
118
210
17 (14)
54 (26)

9 (7)
19 (9)

8 (7)
28 (13)

 30–39
302
446
55 (18)
112 (25)

18 (6)
45 (10)

27 (9)
57 (13)

 40–49
196
227
35 (18)
51 (22)

19 (10)
16 (7)

19 (10)
37 (16)

 50–59
148
172
25 (17)
32 (17)

12 (8)
17 (10)

9 (6)
27 (16)

 60+
117
86
30 (26)
22 (26)

9 (8)
6 (7)

5 (4)
2 (2)

Rank, n (%)




0.00


0.23


0.01
 Professor
178
69
38 (21)
15 (22)

13 (7)
5 (7)

7 (4)
4 (6)

 Teacher
85
192
14 (16)
44 (23)

8 (9)
20 (10)

9 (11)
35 (18)

 Researcher
305
332
65 (21)
85 (26)

23 (8)
28 (8)

18 (6)
32 (10)

 Junior researcher
57
73
8 (14)
15 (21)

7 (12)
9 (12)

7 (12)
9 (12)

 PhD student
256
475
37 (14)
112 (24)

16 (6)
41 (9)

24 (9)
71 (15)

Manager, n (%)




0.00


0.66


0.00
 Yes
317
208
61 (19)
43 (21)

32 (10)
20 (9)

27 (9)
23 (11)

 No
564
933
101 (18)
228 (24)

35 (6)
83 (9)

38 (7)
128 (14)









































































Differences between women and men in the experience of work environment problems in the different categories were not shown to be statistically significant.
Experiencing combined problems was more common among women than among men. The differences were found in all age groups below the age of 60, among teachers, senior researchers and PhD students, female non-managers.

Average level of subjective production loss

Table 3 presents the average level of subjective production loss for employees according to the different categories. The average health-related production loss differed significantly between age groups, with the lowest levels among the oldest employees aged 50 or above. The highest level was found in the age group 40–49. The level of subjective work environment-related production loss did not differ significantly between any of the investigated categories. Significant differences in the average level of production loss among those experiencing both kinds of problems were found between those in managerial and non-managerial positions. as well as among different ranks. The highest level was found among the teaching staff and the lowest level among the professors. On a scale of 0–100, researchers (both senior and junior and PhD students) all reported a level of production loss of 40% or higher.

Table 3

Average level of subjective production loss in a working population divided into different categories

Health-related production loss1(n = 433)
Work environment-related production loss1(n = 168)
Both health and work environment-related production loss1 (n = 216)

Mean (sd)
p-value
Mean (sd)
p-value
Mean (sd)
p-value
Total
31 (26)

42 (26)

41 (23)

Sex

0.072

0.912

0.272
 Men
28 (25)

41 (26)

38 (20)

 Women
33 (27)

42 (25)

42 (24)

Age

0.02 3

0.343

0.193
 −29
34 (23)

43 (26)

38 (20)

 30–39
33 (30)

46 (27)

44 (24)

 40–49
36 (28)

37 (25)

41 (22)

 50–59
25 (21)

35 (24)

40 (24)

 60+
23 (21)

43 (21)

24 (16)

Manager

0.752

0.532

0.01 2
 Yes
31 (31)

40 (25)

33 (19)

 No
31 (27)

42 (25)

43 (24)

Rank
 Professor
25 (21)
0.083
36 (22)
0.363
21 (15)
0.04 3
 Senior researcher
34 (30)

42 (26)

41 (24)

 Junior researcher
30 (24)

43 (22)

40 (23)

 PhD student
33 (26)

45 (28)

41 (22)

 Teacher
26 (22)

35 (21)

45 (24)











































1Production loss was assessed on a scale ranging from 0 to 100
2Students t-test
3Oneway Anova

Conclusion

The results show that female academic employees reported a higher prevalence of health problems and a combination of work environment and health problems than men. This was especially the case for younger women, those in lower academic ranks. However, these differences were not translated into similar sex differences in perceived performance loss while at work. This suggests that the previously identified differences in productivity can to some extent be explained by younger women in more junior positions experiencing more health problems than men. This might, in turn, help to explain why women’s research productivity lags behind that of male researchers early in their careers.
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