An investigation into the role of perceived work stress upon absenteeism, job satisfaction, psychological health and family across five disparate occupational groups

The link between psychological well-being and occupational stress has been the subject of extensive investigation (Warr, 1994). Several researchers have focused on specific variables deemed to impact work-related stress, but few have attempted to provide an “all-encompassing” theoretical explanation. A prominent example of the latter is provided by Warr (1994) who proposed the nine factors (environmental stressors) for job-related well-being

  1. Job Autonomy
  2. Opportunity for Skill Use
  3. Workload
  4. Job Variety
  5. Job Clarity
  6. Availability of Money
  7. Job Security
  8. Opportunity for Interpersonal Contact
  9. Valued Social Position

These factors were formulated into an environmental stressors’ questionnaire, which has enjoyed some success within the industry.

The prevailing consequence of work-related stress appears to be psychological disorder. For example, work-related stress has been linked to depressive disorder by Tennant (2001) in his seminal paper outlining the major implications of work-related stress (distress), which include worker dissatisfaction, mental health, absenteeism and the wider impact on family function.


  1. Irrespective of occupational group, psychological disturbance (General Health Questionnaire; Goldberg, 1992) will be characterized by the presence of high levels of unofficial absenteeism, low job satisfaction and greater work-to-family stress, in comparison to those who do not display such disturbance.
  2. Irrespective of occupational group, high perceived work stress will be characterized by the presence of low job satisfaction, higher rates of unofficial absenteeism and greater work-to-family stress.
  3. High perceived stress will be characterized by the presence of psychological disturbance (GHQ), regardless of occupation.
  4. Individuals in the police and fire service will report greater perceived stress levels than schoolteachers, train drivers and librarians, and perceived work-related stress levels will decrease respectively across each professional group respectively, with police personnel reporting the highest and librarians reporting the lowest.


The study employed a between-subjects design, with independent variables of occupation type and psychological health (GHQ). The dependent variables were the scores for the perceived environmental stress (Warr) and distress as measured in terms of job satisfaction, work-to-family stress and absenteeism.

Participants and Assessments

There were 292 participants recruited using a postal survey—fire services (99), police (117), teachers (18), train personnel (14), and librarians (44)—who were recruited from 26 organizations. The age of the participants across the five groups ranged from 18 to 64 years, with an overall mean of 40.65 years. The majority of the participants were male (208), in comparison to 84 females.

Unofficial absenteeism was assessed utilizing a three-item measure,, which had been employed and extensively validated by the University of Surrey Psychology department. The measure has a typical reliability of approximately 0.7 (Hair, personal communication). Work-to-family stress was determined using items taken from Carlson, Kacmar & Williams’ (2000) Work-Family conflict scale. Perceived environmental stressors (nine-factor) questionnaire (Warr, 1994) was employed to assess perceived stress in the workplace. A higher score depicted a greater effect for that factor. The nine-factor questionnaire has been shown to have good reliability and validity (Saddiq & Eysenck, 2000). Psychological Health was assessed using the GHQ-12 (Goldberg, 1992). Job Satisfaction was measured using a self-report measure (Price & Mueller, 1981). The scale has good internal consistency reliability and good validity (Price & Mueller, 1981).


Based upon the established cut-off of three for this questionnaire, participant scores were designated healthy (GHQ < 3) or non-healthy (GHQ ≥ 3). Overall, two-thirds of all participants were categorised as healthy, and a third as experiencing some psychological difficulties. These proportions are broadly consistent for each occupational group.

Hypothesis 1 – Psychological Health (GHQ) and its impact upon Absenteeism, Job Satisfaction, and Work-Family Stress

In comparison to the non-healthy subgroup, healthy participants had greater job satisfaction, less work-family conflict, and lower rates of unofficial absenteeism from work.

Hypothesis 2 – Stress as a predictor

Multiple regression analyses were employed to determine whether perceived stress predicted “job satisfaction,”, “work-family conflict” and unofficial “absenteeism” from work.

Job Stress as a Predictor of Job Satisfaction

The models produced from multiple regressions included the variables of “perceived workload,”, “valued social position,”, “perceived variety” and “perceived clarity;”; all other variables were excluded. “Perceived variety” and “valued social position” were found to account for 39 percent of total variance. Analysis of Variance reported all models to be significantly better predictors than the mean. All predictors made a significant contribution to the model: perceived variety, valued social position, perceived clarity, and perceived workload.

Job Stress as a Predictor of Unofficial Absenteeism

Multiple regressions suggested a model that included a single variable of “perceived skill use.” This predictor was indicative of a R2 value of .026 accounting for 2.6 percent of variance for absenteeism. Analysis of Variance reported the model to be a significantly better predictor than the mean: Perceived skill use. This predictor made a significant contribution to the model.

Job Stress as a Predictor of Work-family Conflict

The models produced from multiple regressions only included the variables of “perceived workload,”, “valued social position” and “perceived clarity;”; all other variables were excluded. “Perceived workload” and “valued social position” accounted for 32.5 percent of the variance. Analysis of Variance reported all models to be significantly better predictors than the mean. All predictors made a significant contribution to the model: perceived workload, valued social position, perceived clarity.

Hypothesis 3 – Perceived Stress and Psychological Health (GHQ)

Differences between healthy and non-healthy individuals were evident for all of Warr’s factors except those of “perceived variety” and “availability of money.”. In comparison to the healthy individuals, the non-healthy participants reported less control over their work duties and a lesser opportunity to utilize their skills, felt that they had a greater workload and less clarity over what was required of them in the job, perceived less opportunity for interpersonal contact, felt they were in a less valued social position, and reported having greater difficulties in performing their job in their current physical environment. Finally, the non-healthy group reported higher levels of perceived overall stress than those individuals in the “healthy” group did. Thus, the impact of work-related stress upon psychological health is robustly supported by these findings.

Hypothesis 4 – Occupational differences for Perceived stress

Occupation type was responsible for significant variations in perceived employee stress for: the impact of work environment; the extent of variety that employees felt they had in their job; the perceived kudos employees associated with their jobs and the extent to which individuals felt they received sufficient financial reward.

Post-hoc analyses revealed that librarians associated greater stress with their physical environment hindering their ability to perform work duties than fire fighters (p<.01) and the police force (p<.05). Train drivers felt they had less job variety in comparison to the police service (p<.05), fire fighters (p<.01) and schoolteachers (p<.01). The police service reported greater stress due to the perceived kudos employees associated with their job relative to fire fighters (p<.001) and librarians (p<.01). Finally, train drivers reported greater levels of stress associated with poor pay, in comparison to fire fighters (p<.01), librarians (p<.05) and individuals from the police force (p<.05)

Gender differences for Perceived Stresses

No differences were found between males and females on any of the stressor variables except a borderline difference (p=.049) for the “availability of money” factor; males reported higher stress levels associated with poor pay.


Overall, the study’s hypotheses were supported. Psychological disturbance was concomitant with the presence of unofficial absenteeism, lower job satisfaction and greater work-to-family stress. Perceived work stress (as measured by Warr’s nine stressors) was found to predict job satisfaction and work-to-family stress, although not all nine variables were predictive in either instance. Psychological disturbance was found to be evident in approximately one-third of all participants, with these proportions being broadly consistent for each occupational group.

Psychological Disturbance, Absenteeism, Job Satisfaction and Work-to-Family Stress

Three of Warr’s stressors—perceived workload, valued social position and perceived clarity— were predictive of work-to-family stress. It would appear evident that a job with a high workload (or perceived workload) is likely to involve a greater deal of work and longer hours, resulting in less “family time.”

Higher perceived stress on seven of Warr’s nine stressors were indicative of psychological disturbance, with perceived variety and availability of money not differing between psychologically disturbed and healthy participants.

Stress and Occupational Differences

Clear-cut differences in perceived stress were not evident between occupations in the hypothesized hierarchical manner. Rather, a more complex picture emerged where some (but not all) of the nine stressors discriminated between the employment groups, and in addition, the severity of each stressor was not linked to a particular profession.


This study has provided extensive support for the effects of occupational stress upon psychological health and undesirable work outcomes. Participants who reported greater stress levels were likely to have poor job satisfaction, greater work-family stress and more unofficial absenteeism in comparison to those reporting lower stress. Furthermore, individuals with greater perceived stress were more likely to exhibit psychological disturbance. Interestingly, no differences in stress were found between stress reports by males and females. The greater levels of perceived stress reported by librarians might suggest a personality co-variant that results in certain personality types to seek jobs that are unlikely to induce high levels of stress. Indeed, a highly trait-anxious individual is unlikely to seek out a career in a profession that is highly anxiety-inducing, such as the fire service or the police force. Equally, an extrovert may be likely to seek out a job that is highly stimulating and possibly active, feeding their need for excitement. However, prudence dictates further research into this field before more concrete conclusions can be drawn.

From a more practical perspective, we have seen the consequences of “unhealthy” individuals upon the organization in terms of absenteeism, perceived stress and job satisfaction; and this paper reports that approximately one-third of these organizations are “unhealthy.” For a practitioner, the question posed is if your organization’s health is in line with these findings, what impact is this having upon your company’s productivity?


Carlson, D. S., Kacmar, K. M. & Williams, L. J. (2000). Construction and Initial Validation of a Multidimensional Measure of Work-Family Conflict. Journal of Vocational Behaviour, 56: 249-276.

Goldberg, D. (1992). General health questionnaire. Windsor: NFER-Nelson.

Price, J. L. & Mueller, C. W. (1981). Professional Turnover: The case of nurses. New York: SP Medical & Scientific Books.

Saddiq, M. S. & Eysenck, M. W. (2000). Unpublished undergraduate dissertation.

Tennant, C. (2001). Work-related stress and depressive disorders. Journal of Psychosomatic Research, 51: 697-704.

Warr, P. (1994). A conceptual framework for the study of work and mental health. Work and Stress, 8, 84-97.