Effect of Job Characteristics on Work Ability in Patients With Chronic Headaches

man with headache
man with headache
Lower work ability in patients with chronic migraine may be associated with high quantitative and emotional demand.

Job resources and job demands have a significant impact on the working ability of employees with chronic headaches, according to a study published in the Journal of Occupational Rehabilitation. Employees with chronic headaches also experience a stronger benefit from supervisor support than employees without chronic disease.

This study examined a group of 593 employees with chronic headache from the 2013 Netherlands Working Conditions Survey (NWCS) to determine whether job resources were positively associated with working ability, and job demands negatively associated with working ability. The study also utilized a control group of 13,742 employees from the NWCS to determine if job resources and demands were more strongly associated with working ability for employees with chronic headaches compared with employees without a chronic disease.

The NWCS is an annual survey of the Dutch working population between 15 and 65 years. The demographics of the control group and the chronic headache group were comparable in regard to marital status, educational levels, and household composition. The data analyses were controlled for gender and age, as the chronic headache group included 79% women, and the control group only 46% women, and the chronic headache group had a higher percentage in the 35 to 44 age category vs the control group (29% vs 24%, χ2 =16.47, P <.01). Analyses were also controlled for educational level despite the comparability between the groups, as correlations indicated that education significantly related to work ability indicators and job characteristics.

Study results demonstrated that high social support and autonomy were associated with higher work ability, and although higher emotional and quantitative demands were associated with lower work ability, higher cognitive demands were associated with higher work engagement. Social support from supervisors was shown to be a greater predictor for emotional exhaustion for employees with chronic headaches than for employees without chronic conditions.

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Study investigators conclude that more detailed longitudinal research on the relationship between psychosocial job conditions and disease characteristics is needed considering the high prevalence of chronic headache in the working population worldwide. “Furthermore, to contribute to the development of work ability enhancing interventions it would be worthwhile to determine whether favorable changes in job characteristics (spontaneous and instigated) lead to improved work ability in employees with this condition.”


van der Doef MP, Schelvis RMC. Relations between psychosocial job characteristics and work ability in employees with chronic headaches [published April 10, 2018]. J Occup Rehabil. doi: 10.1007/s10926-018-9769-7