Karasek’s theory of job demand-control (JD-C) about work stress has had a great impact on the academic literature and job redesign (Bright, 2001). According to Kompier (2003) the JD-C model is presently one of the most influencing models of stress in occupational health. In criticism, authors like Cox & Griffin (1995) state that the JD-C model highlights the characteristics of the employee’s environment and his/her interaction with the environment. They say the theory does not explain the process of what occurs during this interaction.
JD-C model defines stress as product of how demanding an individual’s job is and how much control they can exert over their responsibilities within that job. This process creates a quadrant with four kinds of jobs; passive, active, low-strain and high-strain.
There are two factors in this quadrant model that affect the stress levels of working individuals. First, Job demands constitute the stressors (strain) caused by the environment of work. These stressors can be; time pressures, demands, pace of work, conflicts in the workplace, amount of work etc. Second, Decision latitude is defined as the control an employee has over their responsibilities and how they wish to perform these jobs assigned to them. Decision latitude branches into two concepts (i) skill discretion: which is described as the extent of variety and flexibility a job has for example; a job having multiple number of tasks, opportunity for creativity, space for personal growth and skill development, how much do the responsibilities repeat themselves over a period of time etc. (ii) decision authority: which is defined as an employee’s potential of making decisions and influencing people, departments and organisation as a whole.
As mentioned above, this model results in four kinds of stress for jobs. This paper will discuss one of the types in detail, as follows:
(i) Passive jobs: Passive jobs are created when there is low decision latitude and low strain. Having personal work experience as an office manager, a great example would be of an office administrator. When the job is to predict and tackle conflicts and disruptions the passivity of the job increases, but is also satisfying. When this happens, and latitude is low, knowing that the disturbing factors are manageable can assimilate components that can vary in an organisation preventing them from going into disarray, increases the satisfaction of the employee. When in the same job, passivity roots due to uninteresting tasks like making sure the tea-boy cleans the kitchen, it is not satisfying. Karasek and Theorell consider passive jobs as the second major psychological problem. When passive jobs are compared to high strain jobs, passive jobs can result in different harmful effects on health (T.Theorell, 1990). The authors hypothesize that passive jobs that do not have challenges result in negative learning or loss of skills. If the environment does not promote using one’s own ideas, the job can seem demotivating and result in a long term loss of work performance and due to the low demands of the job less stressors are confronted (T.Theorell, 1990). This paper agrees with the authors, the experience of an office manager for a year resulted in feelings of less or no ability to face challenges when given any, reduced self-efficacy, increased feelings of depression to the point of resignation and occasionally learned helplessness. Landsbergis et. Al (1998) in their work about health risk behaviours that lead to cardiovascular diseases researched on employees who were engaged in behaviours like smoking, high alcohol intake, lack of exercise and were overweight, they found that passive jobs lead to feelings of depression and learned helplessness (Landsbergis, Schnall, Deitz, Warren, Pickering, & Schwartz, 1998).
Karasek and his peers have been working on this topic since 1979 and have conducted many researches. There is so much academic literature on this model that it needs to be categorized. Many researchers have also tested this model which divides the kinds of studies conducted into four types (Ganster & Schaubrock, 1991; Jones & Fletcher, 2004). The first kind is the kind of studies conducted on transmission and control of diseases. These studies mostly focused on cardiovascular diseases, they studied the long-term effects of psychological strain and latitude on employee’s health. Second, this type of studies researched on similar or different occupational groups, such studies were mostly cross-sectional and they focused on either behavioural or physiological results. For example; Parkes, Mendham and Von Rabenau (1994) worked with health care workers and hypothesized that most of the physiological symptoms were when there was high strain and less decision latitude. Third, this type of studies focused on short-term effects of job demands and decision latitude (Jonge & Kompier, 1997). Fourth, this type focused on improving the health by changing the work environment and promoting behaviours (Landsbergis, Schnall, Deitz, Warren, Pickering, & Schwartz, 1998). Schnall and colleagues (2003) say that 17 out of 25 studies done on cardiovascular indicators result in a hypothesis of high job strain and low latitude. This paper argues by saying that decision latitude and job demands can lead to intense reactions like somatic symptoms and could also increase motivation in some, as there are individual differences, it is also possible that these two factors elicit different results so it should not be assumed that they both reinforce each other by effecting results similarly.
Karasek’s model was expanded by Johnson & Hall (1988) further added a social aspect to this model. He concluded that support can act like a buffer in high job demand situations (T.Theorell, 1990). Van der Doef and Maes (1999) in their work found that there is significant evidence when relating health outcomes with control, demands and support. They worked with the literature available of both JD-C model and Job demand – control support model in a variety of populations. They mentioned that job-related psychological well-being is affected by 87.5% if strain is high and 50% can be buffered if control is high. On the contrary, Warr (1990) states that there is a relationship between demand and control but there is no evidence of interaction between decision latitude and demands. Even though this model has been tested many times and revised with a social support component, it lacks to consider the contemporary world of work today and does not take into account the characteristics of modern jobs, where the demands and environment is multi-stressor. This model also lacks to keep in mind, individual differences. Different people perceive stress differently, for some a stressor may seem to be a motivator while for others it may be an intense stressor. That is why two people in the same job (same environment and same demands) can have different health outcomes, different behaviours and different psychological strain levels. Perrewe and Zellars (1999) said that the model had good validity at macro level but not at micro level as it does not take in to account individual differences and personality factors. Cox et. Al (2000) criticise this model by saying that it defines demands as responsibilities only related to work-load and does not consider the other types of demands that are present in the workplace. The model projects that high control is always a positive state and could buffer all negative demands, however this paper argues that some employees may not think job control as a positive thing and may also perceive it as a stressor. For example; a person with a low sense of self-efficacy and low self-esteem would not want to be in charge instead would want to be led by people they can follow. The JD-C is an influential model and literature has shown that it has validity, however it has its short comings as it does not focus of the complex process of stress. This model could be used with other models that include individual differences by occupational health professionals to reach maximum results.
To summarize, this article discussed the JD-C model. JD-C model has been an influential part in empirical research, it has encouraged many researchers to generate studies regarding increases work performance by eliminating stressors. This paper shed light of the kinds of research that have taken place regarding the JD-C model and concluded that the studies done on cardiovascular indicators support the models assumptions. It also concluded that how the process of interaction of demands and control are not found in empirical research. How modern workplaces have multi-stressor environments and that individual differences are not taken into account. Factors like personality, socioeconomic background, prior experience, perception, coping styles may all affect the employee and his/her stress levels. Even though there is extensive literature that criticises the model, it still holds. The model predicts the core reasons for stress at the workplace which helps occupational health professionals to understand workplace stress better.