One 'Type A' Characteristic Lowers Work Stress

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Joseph V. Madia, MD

Most characteristics of the "type A" personality are linked to increased work stress, but there's one important exception, according to a study in January's Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine.
Leadership is the type A characteristic associated with reduced job stress, a finding that may be useful in designing stress-reduction programs, according to Taina Hintsa and colleagues, of the University of Helsinki.

The researchers analyzed the relationship between type A behavior and work stress in 752 Finnish workers. In contrast to previous studies, they broke type A behavior into four dimensions: leadership, aggression, being "hard-driving" and eagerness/energy.

High scores for aggression, hard-driving and eagerness/energy were all associated with high job stress. These three type A characteristics were also linked to "effort/reward imbalance," a key contributor to work stress.

In contrast, workers who scored high on leadership had lower work stress. High leadership was linked to high work effort, but also to high work rewards. High leadership was also associated with high job control, which may help to reduce work stress.

The type A personality, with characteristics such as aggression, time urgency and competitiveness, has been linked to an increased risk of heart disease. Type A behavior may also be a risk factor for high stress on the job. Especially if they feel like they're not in control, type A personalities may respond by becoming overinvolved in work.

High leadership protects against work stress, the new study suggests. Leadership may be associated with a good balance between job effort and rewards and a higher level of control over work. In contrast, other three type A characteristics--aggression, hard-driving and eagerness/energy--are linked to high work stress and effort/reward imbalance.

These personality characteristics should be considered in designing programs attempting to address work stress, Hintsa and coauthors believe. For example, since leadership increases job control, giving employees a stronger say in work decisions helps reduce job stress.

American College of Occupational and Environmental Medicine
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Review Date: 
September 17, 2010