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Survival of the fittest: An investigation of the relationship between stressful work environments, physical fitness, and employee well -being

Kathi J Lovelace, University of Massachusetts - Amherst


This study analyzed the relationship between stressful work environments, physical fitness, and employee well-being, and proposed the “survival of the fittest” model. The “survival of the fittest” model was tested to determine whether physical fitness reduced the negative health outcomes of stressful work environments. Stressful work environments were framed through the job demands-control model (Karasek, 1979), and employee well-being was assessed through cardiovascular health and psychological well-being. Physical fitness was measured as cardiorespiratory endurance. ^ Main effect and interaction effect models were tested using hierarchical regression and nonlinear structural equation modeling (SEM) analyses techniques. This study showed that employee well-being is negatively affected by current work trends. The results indicated that the interaction effect of high strain jobs (high job demands and low job control) negatively affected cardiovascular health, but not psychological well-being. Psychological well-being was negatively affected by high job demands, and low job control independently (main effects), whereas cardiovascular health was not negatively affected by these main effects. The results also indicated that fitness, when measured as a state, did not produce the hypothesized stress reducing effects, nor the expected improvements in cardiovascular health and psychological well-being. A discussion of these results includes an analysis of group differences, an evaluation of the fitness measure, and an examination of the sample population. ^ This dissertation contributed to the occupational health and stress literature by offering conceptual and methodological improvements over past research. Specifically, I analyzed the job demands-control model through a focused measure of job control and a descriptive measure of job demands. Psychological well-being included the emotional exhaustion measure of burnout, and a measure of anxiety and depression not previously tested in this literature stream. Objective measures of cardiovascular health (blood pressure) and physical fitness (step test) were obtained, and data were gathered from a cross-sectional sample of 100 working adults. Furthermore, the application of nonlinear SEM techniques allowed for the simultaneous examination of physiological and psychological health outcomes, which provided a holistic view of the work stress and employee well-being relationship not previously found in this literature. ^

Subject Area

Health Sciences, Occupational Health and Safety|Business Administration, Management|Education, Health

Recommended Citation

Kathi J Lovelace, "Survival of the fittest: An investigation of the relationship between stressful work environments, physical fitness, and employee well -being" (January 1, 2002). Doctoral Dissertations Available from Proquest. Paper AAI3039373.