Symptoms of chronic stress at work in NGO workers


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Symptoms of chronic stress at work in NGO workers
Titre de la conférence
Genes and Diseases, CHUV Research Day, January 29, 2009
Rochat Lysiane, Gonik Viviane, Arial Marc, Danuser Brigitta
Université de Lausanne, Faculté de biologie et de médecine
Statut éditorial
Date de publication
Working in a NGO often involves providing life saving resources (food, medicine,
equipment, water, etc) to needy populations around the globe. Such duty requires
highly dedicated employees and humanitarian workers are said to face a hign degree
of pressure in their daily work. Despite the evidence of taxing work demands, and a
high potential for stress related problems, very few studies on occupational chronic
stress have specifically looked at NGO workers. Assuming that "field stress" can relay
to workers at headquarters, we carried out an exploratory study about occupational
health among employees of a NGO's headquarters.
We sent a questionnaire to all employees (N=130) of a NGO headquarters located in
Switzerland. We used the TST questionnaire (French version of the Langner's
questionnaire on psychiatric symptoms) to identify cases with potential mental health
problems. We also included in the questionnaire some items about motivation,
acknowledgment, work-life balance, job demand, and autonomy. A total of 75
employees answered our questionnaire (57% response rate). 44% of our sample
were men (n=33) and 56% were women (n=42). The mean age was of 40 years
(SD=7.6). 56% were working at the headquarters of the NGO in questions as of 2
years or less.
Not surprisingly, a majority of respondents reported to be highly motivated (74%) and
the meaning of work was important for 80% of them. However, 35% indicated having
problems in conciliating their private and professional life. Most frequent reported
symptoms included feeling "weak all over" (81%), having "trouble getting asleep often"
(35%), "clogging in nose" (35%), feeling "nervous often" (33%), and "memory not all
right" (33%). The score for psychiatric symptoms was high in 8 (11%) employees
whose health might therefore be at risk. In comparison, other sudies showed that this
proportion was 9% for French teachers and 16% for sales personnel1. Results show
that symptoms of mental health problems do occur among NGO workers. Some of
these symptoms are known to be linked to occupational stress. Chronic stress
manifests itself first in non-specific symptoms (e.g. fatigue) and later in specific
pathologies. This could explain the relatively low proportion of cases with a high score
in Langner's scale than was expected. Therefore, we hypothesize a healthy worker
effect. The fact that our sample is 40 years old in average, and that the turnover is
quite high can also support this hypothesis.
Further research is needed in order to better understand occupational stress in this
specific population. An upcoming study will investigate the role of organizational
factors associated with health complaints. Therefore, a longitudinal survey including
quantitative and qualitative methods is appropriate.
Stress, Psychological , Employment , Workplace , Occupational Health , Organization, Nonprofit
Création de la notice
27/01/2010 13:20
Dernière modification de la notice
20/08/2019 17:09
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