5 December 1999

Business IS WAR

by Kate Melville

It is not hard to see why people who approach work with a "must-win" attitude have a higher risk for heart disease, but what has not been clear is why.

Well now research by scientists from Vrije University in Amsterdam and Utrecht University in Utrecht may help detail the physical mechanism behind this link.

"Individuals who score high on overcommitment are competitive, impatient, have a high need for approval, and are unable to 'let go,'" said study author Tanja Vrijkotte, MSc. "In the long run, they are at risk for feelings of exhaustion and psychological breakdown."

The researchers used a questionnaire of perceived work stress to ascertain the coping styles of 124 middle-aged male white-collar workers in the Netherlands. During the study participants' blood was then tested on several occasions during a working week.

The survey looked at the relationship between subjects work efforts and rewards. Previous research in this area had already shown that that highly demanding jobs, which offer poor compensation, were clearly with chronic work stress. Also measured was the degree to which the men exhibited work an over commitment to their jobs.

After analyzing the results, individuals who ranked high on the work over commitment scale seemed predisposed to cardiovascular disease. The researchers also found that the natural blood clot-dissolving ability of the study participants with an over committed work style tended to be impaired.

One possible theory they came up with was that these people's clot-dissolving, or fibrinolytic system, which normally works hand-in-hand with its clot-forming, or coagulation system was out of balance. An imbalance in these systems can lead to excessive clot formation and subsequent atherosclerosis and cardiovascular disease.

So will this research help doctors treat people who have these risk factors? Probably not because unless they have a fairly significant lifestyle change then such people tend to work and 'die in harness' as the old saying goes.