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Stress Impact

Impact of Changing Social Structures on Stress and Quality of Life: Individual and Social perspectives


Project Details

Full Title:
Impact of Changing Social Structures on Stress and Quality of Life:
Individual and Social perspectives

Project Acronym:
Stress Impact

European Union, Key Action, Third Call

Three years, January 2003 - December 2005

Project Manager:
Professor Fred Zijlstra, University of Surrey

Partners in the Stress Impact project are:

  • University of Surrey, Department of Psychology, Guildford, UK
  • Work Research Centre, Dublin, Ireland
  • University College Dublin, Ireland
  • TNO - Work and Employment, Hoofddorp, The Netherlands
  • Finnish Institute of Occupational Health, Helsinki, Finland
  • Forschungsinstitut des Wiener Roten Kreuzes, Vienna, Austria
  • Tecnopolis Csata, Bari, Italy
  • What is Stress Impact?

    Stress Impact is a research study of Long Term Absence (LTA) from work due to stress related health problems.
    The project will address the following questions:

    • what characteristics, if any, are shared by people who are long term absent (LTA) from work for stress-related reasons?
    • what factors do people say are important to them in making a decision to take sickness absence?
    • to what extent does a person's family set-up influence the decision to take sickness absence, or to stay at work?
    • what factors influence or determine when someone returns to work?
    • what interventions, if any, are used to help people re-integrate into the workplace and which of these, if any, are successful?
    • What is the individual perspective, the institutional and professional perspective to LTA, and how do they relate to each other?

    The project addresses these questions by conducting three interrelated studies.

    Study one is a large scale survey of people off work on long term sickness absence. People who have had a continuous period of sickness absence of between 16 & 30 weeks will be contacted and asked to participate by completing a questionnaire. They will be asked questions about their work situation, health status, private life situation, future perspective, etc. As a control group will serve people who are Long-term Absentees due to other than work-related stress. These people will be asked similar questions for reasons of comparison. The group of stress-related LTA's will be surveyed again approximately half a year later in a follow-up study to mark any changes that might have occurred in their situation.

    From this study, a smaller group of 'stress-related LTA's' will be selected for a second study. This group will be studied in more detail with in-depth interviews addressing details of their work and illness history, along with information on their family structure and the efforts made to establish a work/life balance.

    A third study will focus on interviewing professionals dealing with LTA's in order to obtain the professional perspective, their difficulties in diagnosing the phenomenon, their strategies of dealing with people on LTA, and their views on how to improve the situation, etc.

    The project has been fully funded by the European Commission, under the Fifth Framework for Research and Technological Development.


    Mental and behavioural disorders are currently in some countries (e.g. United Kingdom, The Netherlands) the most frequently mentioned reasons for long-term absence from work, and responsible for about a third of all long-term absenteeism (UK: DWP statistics, Nov. 2002). Stress is probably the most important underlying problem in this diagnostic category. Workers on long-term absence as a result of stress have a very low probability of returning to work. Current rehabilitation and return to work models are often developed on the basis of mainly physical conditions and as a result are ineffective in responding to the needs of workers experiencing long term absence as a result of stress related psychological problems.

    This project will focus on people who are long term absent from their work because of stress related mental health complaints. The absentees will be surveyed with respect to their present situation and experiences with administrative regulations, and professional practices.


    The project will provide an estimate of the incidence and demographics of stress related long-term absence in six EU Member States and explore the relationship between professional and institutional approaches to stress in each jurisdiction. The project will also document individual perceptions and experiences with respect to being on long term absence, including perceived threats and risks relating to social trends and structural changes in society. It will provide insight into how decisions with respect to work resumption are being reached, which factors will influence those decisions, and how the threshold of resumption is determined. The impact of stress related long term absence on individual, family and social well being and, alternatively, the influence of family situation and social networks on long term absence will both be explored. In this way the gaps between theory and practice in dealing with people who are on stress related long term absence will be identified, as will good practices in lowering the work resumption threshold.

    Description of the project

    The project will consist of several elements:

    • Review of the international academic literature (state of the art) in the domain of job rehabilitation, stress prevention and intervention, and sickness absence. Including literature in national languages.
    • Review of national policies (including financial and legal aspects), projects and initiatives with respect to sickness absence and stress related long-term absenteeism and job rehabilitation.
    • Subsequently three related studies will be undertaken in each of the countries involved in this project:
      a) survey of long term sickness absentees,
      b) in-depth interviews with a sub-sample of stress-related LTA's, focussing on family situation, social infrastructure, future perspectives, and
      c) professional study, consisting of interviews with professionals working in this field (Occupational Health practitioners, GP, HRM, policy makers, etc).
    • Synthesis of the results of these studies, and a coherent theory of action with respect to job rehabilitation for stress related LTA will be developed. This will include a comparison of European approaches to dealing with stress related LTA. This will form the basis of development of policy and guidelines.
    • A network of stakeholders will be developed, through which the results of the study will be disseminated. This network will also be consulted at regular moments throughout the project.
    • Project management to ensure that project objectives will be obtained.

    Ten work packages have been defined for this project.

    Expected results

    Several reports will be produced in this project. The first report will be a conceptual framework, based upon review of international and national literature. This report is expected to be externally available in month 12.

    Subsequently there will be several reports on the national studies. These reports will be available for national stakeholders in month 30.

    Finally there will be an integrated report on the national studies, with policy recommendations and practical guidelines. This report will be available at the end of the project (month 36).

    Stakeholder Network

    As indicated above, as part of this project a stakeholder network will be developed. These networks will be developed locally, by the local partners. The function of this network for this project will be to liaise with the external field, the professionals, the policy makers, and others who might have an interest in the results of this project. The stakeholder network will also be highly important in disseminating the results of this project.

    What is the Stress Impact Stakeholder Network?

    The project will have a Stakeholder Network in each of the partner countries.
    The aim of the Stakeholder Network will be to:

    • share information with participants on the progress of the project
    • seek feedback from participants on methodological issues
    • provide information to participants on the research findings as they emerge
    • seek feedback on the relevance and usability of research findings
    • facilitate networking amongst those with an interest in this area