Psychosocial work characteristics as risk factors for the onset of fatigue and psychological distress: prospective results from the Maastricht Cohort Study

Psychol Med. 2002 Feb;32(2):333-45. doi: 10.1017/s0033291701005098.


Background: Prolonged fatigue has recently attracted attention in occupational (mental) health research since it may lead to sickness absenteeism and work disability. To date, little is known about the role of psychosocial work characteristics in the aetiology of fatigue. In this study we examined prospectively a wide range of psychosocial work characteristics as possible risk factors for the onset of fatigue and psychological distress in the working population.

Methods: This study is based on 8833 employees, participating in the Maastricht Cohort Study of 'Fatigue at Work'. A wide range of psychosocial work characteristics, measured at baseline, was used to predict the onset of fatigue and psychological distress 1 year later. Fatigue was measured with the Checklist Individual Strength; the General Health Questionnaire was used to measure psychological distress.

Results: The cumulative incidence of fatigue during 1 year follow-up was 9.7% (N = 492) in men, and 13.5% (N = 241) in women. Psychological demands at work as well as physical and emotional demands increased the risk for fatigue in men, whereas decision latitude in men and co-worker social support in women were protective against fatigue. These prospective associations remained significant after adjustments for potential confounders and baseline fatigue. As regards psychological distress, no association was found with decision latitude, while conflicts at work increased the risk of psychological distress.

Conclusions: Psychosocial work characteristics were significant predictors for the onset of fatigue in the working population. The prospective associations suggest some differential effects in the aetiology of fatigue and psychological distress. Good interpersonal relationships at work and high decision authority were demonstrated to be relevant aspects that should be targeted for prevention.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Cohort Studies
  • Fatigue / psychology*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Job Satisfaction*
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Netherlands
  • Occupational Diseases / psychology*
  • Prospective Studies
  • Risk Factors
  • Stress, Psychological / complications*
  • Workload / psychology