Preventing occupational stress in healthcare workers

Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2006 Oct 18;(4):CD002892. doi: 10.1002/14651858.CD002892.pub2.


Background: Healthcare workers can suffer from occupational stress which may lead to serious mental and physical health problems.

Objectives: To evaluate the effectiveness of work and person-directed interventions in preventing stress at work in healthcare workers.

Search strategy: We searched the Cochrane Depression Anxiety and Neurosis Group trials Specialised Register, MEDLINE, PsychInfo and Cochrane Occupational Health Field database.

Selection criteria: Randomised controlled clinical trials (RCT) of interventions aimed at preventing psychological stress in healthcare workers. For work-directed interventions interrupted time series and prospective cohort were also eligible.

Data collection and analysis: Two authors independently extracted data and assessed trial quality. Meta-analysis and qualitative synthesis were performed where appropriate.

Main results: We identified 14 RCTs, three cluster-randomised trials and two crossover trials, including a total of 1,564 participants in intervention groups and 1,248 controls. Two trials were of high quality. Interventions were grouped into 1) person-directed: cognitive-behavioural, relaxation, music-making, therapeutic massage and multicomponent; and 2) work-directed: attitude change and communication, support from colleagues and participatory problem solving and decision-making, and changes in work organisation. There is limited evidence that person-directed interventions can reduce stress (standardised mean difference or SMD -0.85; 95% CI -1.21, -0.49); burnout: Emotional Exhaustion (weighted mean difference or WMD -5.82; 95% CI -11.02, -0.63) and lack of Personal Accomplishment (WMD -3.61; 95% CI -4.65, -2.58); and anxiety: state anxiety (WMD -9.42; 95% CI -16.92, -1.93) and trait anxiety (WMD -6.91; 95% CI -12.80, -1.01). One trial showed that stress remained low a month after intervention (WMD -6.10; 95% CI -8.44, -3.76). Another trial showed a reduction in Emotional Exhaustion (Mean Difference or MD -2.69; 95% CI -4.20, -1.17) and in lack of Personal Accomplishment (MD -2.41; 95% CI -3.83, -0.99) maintained up to two years when the intervention was boosted with refresher sessions. Two studies showed a reduction that was maintained up to a month in state anxiety (WMD -8.31; 95% CI -11.49, -5.13) and trait anxiety (WMD -4.09; 95% CI -7.60, -0.58). There is limited evidence that work-directed interventions can reduce stress symptoms (Mean Difference or MD -0.34; 95% CI -0.62, -0.06); Depersonalization (MD -1.14; 95% CI -2.18, -0.10), and general symptoms (MD -2.90; 95% CI -5.16, -0.64). One study showed that the difference in stress symptom level was nonsignificant at six months (MD -0.19; 95% CI -0.49, 0.11).

Authors' conclusions: Limited evidence is available for the effectiveness of interventions to reduce stress levels in healthcare workers. Larger and better quality trials are needed.

Publication types

  • Meta-Analysis
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review
  • Systematic Review

MeSH terms

  • Health Personnel / psychology*
  • Humans
  • Occupational Diseases / prevention & control*
  • Occupational Diseases / psychology
  • Randomized Controlled Trials as Topic
  • Stress, Psychological / prevention & control*