The Efficacy of a Web-Based Stress Management Intervention for Employees Experiencing Adverse Working Conditions and Occupational Self-efficacy as a Mediator: Randomized Controlled Trial

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Background: Work stress is highly prevalent and puts employees at risk for adverse health consequences. Web-based stress management interventions (SMIs) promoting occupational self-efficacy might be a feasible approach to aid employees to alleviate this burden and to enable them to improve an unbalanced situation between efforts and rewards at work. Objective: The first aim of this randomized controlled trial was to investigate the efficacy of a web-based SMI for employees perceiving elevated stress levels and an effort-reward imbalance in comparison to a waitlist control (WLC) group. Second, we investigated whether the efficacy of an SMI could be explained by an increase in occupational self-efficacy and whether this personal resource enables employees to change adverse working conditions. Methods: A total of 262 employees reporting effort-reward imbalance scores over 0.715 and elevated stress levels (10-item Perceived Stress Scale [PSS-10] score ≥22) were randomly assigned to either the intervention group (IG; SMI) or the WLC group. The primary outcome was perceived stress measured using the PSS-10. The secondary outcomes included mental and work-related health measures. Four different mediation analyses were conducted with occupational self-efficacy, efforts, and rewards as mediators. After eligibility screening, data were collected web based at baseline (T1), 7 weeks (T2) and 6 months (T3). Results: Study participation was completed by 80% (105/130, 80.8%) in the IG and 90% (119/132, 90.2%) in the WLC group. Analyses of covariance revealed that stress reduction was significantly higher for the SMI group compared with the WLC group at T2 (d=0.87, 95% CI 0.61-1.12, P<.001) and T3 (d=0.65, 95% CI 0.41-0.90, P<.001). Mediation analyses indicated that occupational self-efficacy mediated the beneficial effect of the SMI on stress directly. Furthermore, the analyses revealed a significant indirect effect of occupational self-efficacy via rewards (b=0.18, t 259=4.52, P<.001), but not via efforts (b=0.01, t 259=0.27, P>.05) while efforts still had a negative impact on stress (b=0.46, t 257=2.32, P<.05). Conclusions: The SMI was effective in reducing stress and improving occupational self-efficacy in employees despite them experiencing an effort-reward imbalance at work. Results from mediation analyses suggest that fostering personal resources such as occupational self-efficacy contributes to the efficacy of the SMI and enables employees to achieve positive changes regarding the rewarding aspects of the workplace. However, the SMI seemed to neither directly nor indirectly impact efforts, suggesting that person-focused interventions might not be sufficient and need to be complemented by organizational-focused interventions to comprehensively improve mental health in employees facing adverse working conditions.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere40488
JournalJournal of Medical Internet Research
Issue number10
Number of pages16
Publication statusPublished - 20.10.2022

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
The German health care insurance company BARMER and the European Commission funded this study (EFRE: ZW6-80119999, CCI 2007DE161PR001).

Publisher Copyright:
©Patricia Nixon, David Daniel Ebert, Leif Boß, Peter Angerer, Nico Dragano, Dirk Lehr.

    Research areas

  • effort-reward imbalance, occupational eMental health, occupational self-efficacy, randomized controlled trial, stress