Work and Mental Health: A Decade in Canadian Research

Article excerpt


This study reviews recent research on mental health within the context of work. The research is based on work during the past decade since the publication of the special issue of the Canadian Psychologist on I-O Psychology in 1988. Our focus will be on research based on Canadian data, done by Canadian scholars, during this 10-year period. Our approach to mental health is inclusive: We examine both theoretical and empirical work pertaining to stress, burnout, depression, anxiety, and well-being. Existing models linking the antecedents and consequences of mental health are reviewed and proposed moderators are assessed, with a view toward ascertaining their empirical viability and theoretical utility. The antecedents of mental health include a broad array of individual differences, job, work, and organizational variables. Similarly, the consequences of mental health cover a broad range of attitudinal and behavioral factors such as job involvement, job satisfaction, organizational commitment, turnover intention, performance, absence, turnover, and somatic and physical ailments. After a critical assessment of the nature and quality of the research, we discuss its implications for future research and offer suggestions for the management of mental health in the workplace.

The topic of work and its impact on mental health is attracting an increasing amount of attention among both academics and policy makers, because of its immense economic importance (Norris, 1997) and theoretical potential. This paper attempts to shed some light on the research that has been done during the past decade in Canada. We will attempt to highlight primarily the Canadian contribution to research in this area. We defined the Canadian contribution broadly as research conducted in Canadian institutions, work published by Canadian authors, and research published elsewhere using Canadian data. We restricted our search to published work since 1986, given the publication of a similar issue of the Canadian Psychologist in 1988.(f.1) We chose only research based articles that are directly located within the context of work and are published in scholarly journals as well as academic books and monographs that deal with aspects of work and mental health for this review.

Although the concept of mental health defies precise definition, it has been studied in the context of work ever since Kornhauser (1965) used the term in his classic study of industrial workers. Subsequently, Kasl (1973), Jamal and Mitchell (1980) and Warr (1987), in their attempts to integrate research and give coherence to the construct, recognized that the definition has many facets. More recently, Kelloway and Barling (1991), in modeling mental health, identified job characteristics, stress, burnout, and job satisfaction as key factors that influenced mental health. While Canadian research in the past decade concentrated primarily on empirical work, it was guided conceptually and theoretically by earlier works rooted in the American and British literatures linking work and mental health (Caplan, Cohb, French, Harrison & Pinneau, 1975; Cooper & Payne, 1980; Kasl, 1974; Karasek, 1979; Kornhauser, 1965; Warr, 1987). For the purpose of this paper, mental health, much as its physical counterpart, is defined in the negative, as the absence of bothersome ailments of the mind. More specifically, we define work related mental health as a less than restive state of being despite the potential for anxiety, tension, stress, depression, somatic illness, and burnout brought about by negative work experiences.

In our attempt to develop a framework for discussing mental health in the context of work, we looked at research by various Canadian groups who have been active in the area during the past decade and identified commonalities in their conceptualization of mental health. Julian Barling and his group looked at stress, mood, depression, and aspects of burnout in the context of work-related mental health (Barling & Kryl, 1990; Barling & MacIntyre, 1993; Bluen & Barling, 1987; Bluen, Barling & Burns, 1990; Kelloway & Barling, 1991; Stewart & Barling, 1996). …


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