The work contract is based on the norm of social reciprocity where appropriate rewards are provided for efforts and achievements at work. The effort-reward imbalance model of work stress maintains that contractual non-reciprocity in terms of high efforts spent and low rewards received is frequent if people have no alternative choice in the labour market, if they are exposed to heavy competition or if they are intrinsically motivated to engage in excessive work-related commitment. According to the model, long-term exposure to effort-reward imbalance increases the risk of stress-related disorders. An overview of results from prospective epidemiological investigations testing the model is given. Overall, people who experience failed reciprocity at work are twice as likely to suffer from incident cardiovascular disease, depression or alcohol dependence compared to those who are not exposed. Associations are stronger for men than for women. Policy implications of findings for improved worksite health promotion are discussed.