Expanding Our Understanding of the Psychosocial Work Environment : A Compendium of Measures of Discrimination, Harassment, and Work-Family Issues

Expanding Our Understanding of the Psychosocial Work Environment : A Compendium of Measures of Discrimination, Harassment, and Work-Family Issues


There is broad recognition that the psychosocial environment at work can affect physical and mental health as well as organizational outcomes such as work performance and effectiveness. There is a substantial literature linking "job strain" and cardiovascular disease. The economic costs of job strain and job stress in general are related to absenteeism, turnover, and lost productivity, and, although difficult to estimate, could be as high as several hundred billion dollars per year. Thus for social as well as economic reasons, research aimed at understanding the conditions of work that contribute to physical and mental health concerns is well worth an intensified focus. The psychosocial domains studied by occupational health researchers typically include psychological job demands, job control (decision latitude), social support, and intrinsic and extrinsic rewards. These factors, reflecting the organization of the work process, are often used to define the "psychosocial work environment." However, health and well-being are also affected by other features of the psychosocial work climate, such as unfair or inequitable treatment of employees, sexual harassment, and discrimination. Differential treatment, whether in terms of gender, age, race/ethnicity, sexual orientation, or disabilities, is increasingly recognized as a chronic stressor that can affect both psychological and physical health. Experiences of discrimination can operate either in a cumulative way or in combination with each other. Furthermore, they are inherently likely to be distributed differentially by socioeconomic position. Although it appears that discrimination experienced by members of target social groups has detrimental consequences, conceptual approaches and strength of findings vary, methodological problems with the literature have been noted, and the evidence regarding long-term health outcomes is limited to date. Direct links to "upstream" organizational practices (e.g., workplace policies, programs, climate) have rarely been made empirically. Relevant literature is explored in more detail below, to summarize both our knowledge to date and the gaps in the empirical research, as well as to motivate inclusion of these work environment features in future studies. One barrier to such research is the lack of awareness of appropriate measurement instruments. Thus the primary purpose of the current project has been to identify measures of gender and race-related dynamics in the workplace and to make them more easily accessible. Following the brief introduction and literature summary, this document catalogues 46 measures of biases, discrimination, and harassment that may be useful to occupational health researchers who wish to explore these issues further.

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