Worrying about Work At Home Could Affect Your Heart, Research Suggests

Wednesday 22nd February 2017

A study of London-based bankers has found a connection between those who reported being worried by work related issues and heart activity typically linked with stress, anxietyan observational study published at the end of January has suggested for the first time.

The research, reported in the online research Frontiers in Human Neuroscience looked into what they called “Work Place Rumination”, which was described by the journal as a time that a person was negatively affected or bothered by a work-related issue when not at work. It took the form of a two-stage study.

The first stage was interviewing 195 adults between 20 and 62 about work place rumination, and from this 36 were chosen, 19 frequent worriers and 17 infrequent ones to take part in the second stage. This involved the 36 each wearing a fitness band manufactured by BioBeats Group (whom two of the authors of the study are employees of) for three consecutive weeknights which measures both heart rate and physical activity in order to track the variability of each person’s heart rate.

The overall result suggested that the group that worried more about work out of hours have heart rates to suggest they are less relaxed overall, suggesting a connection between work place worries and physical health, specifically stress-based heart health indicators which are linked with cardiovascular heart disease.

There are limitations to the study that must be kept in mind however, especially if you want to connect these results to the wider work place. The first is that the study was conducted on an extremely small scale; less than 200 people were initially interviewed and that number in itself was whittled down to just 36, which is too small a sample size to provide any concrete conclusions for the population who work in a very specific sector. The study also focused specifically on banking, a high-pressure job role that has been linked to high levels of stress also means this particular study would not be representative of the wider working population.

The factors measured were based on the connection between heart rate when the person was not physically exerting themselves and the answers to their study. As a result the study can only confirm overall work anxiety and evidence of some form of worry; it is not possible to distinguish between work related stress markers and other forms of rumination, and the patient interview can only provide a general outlook in that regard.

The study also only took place over three consecutive weeknights, which may not represent long term patterns of health. The short term nature of the study means that even if follow up analysis is done it would be difficult to separate work-related worries to more general anxiety.

While there are limitations, this is the first study of its kind and does suggest a link that could be explored further regarding the physical effects of after-work stress. With flexible working leading to many more workers taking their work home with them, the effects of such working habits both psychologically and physically need to be studied on a wider scale.