Workplace Stress, Bad Bosses Linked with Heart Disease: Study

A new study of over 400,000 U.S. workers reveals that stress stemming from negative workplaces, particularly mistrustful ones, contribute to cardiovascular disease (CVD) risk factors. The study also found that trust in the workplace (or lack thereof) was associated with other CVD risk factors like high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and diabetes.

What is CVD and why should you care?

Cardiovascular disease (CVD) is an umbrella term that includes coronary heart disease, cerebrovascular disease, and any disorders of the heart or blood vessels. If left untreated, these factors can result in heart attack or stroke.  The top risk factors for CVD include poor diets consisting of highly processed foods, insufficient exercise, and stress.

Workplace stress is back on the radar of employers who these days are especially concerned about the fatigue and exhaustion from chronic stress (labeled as “burnout”) in the workplace environment.  Workplace burnout, which has been increasing worldwide at an alarming rate, as was previously reported on this blog, was officially classified as a syndrome by the World Health Organization (WHO).

Overview of Findings: Lack of Trust as a Major Factor in Workplace Stress

The current ‘Trust in the Work Environment and Cardiovascular Disease Risk’ study using data from the Gallop Poll, specifically examined the role that trust (or lack thereof) plays in workplace stress.  Specifically, “trust” was defined as “understanding, fairness, and mutual respect between the supervisor and subordinate” — or the lack thereof.

People who worked in a mistrustful environment were more likely to:

√ be smokers

√ have high blood pressure

√ have diabetes

√ eat a poor diet

√ suffer from obesity

√ have high cholesterol

√ blame their bosses for the stressful, mistrustful environment

Study Abstract

This study examined associations between trust, an important aspect of workplace social capital, with seven cardiovascular disease (CVD) risk factors (American Heart Association Life’s Simple 7 (LS7)): smoking, obesity, low physical activity, poor diet, diabetes, high cholesterol, and high blood pressure. Data are from the U.S. Gallup-Sharecare Well-Being Index (2010–2012), a nationally representative telephone survey of U.S. workers (n = 412,884). The independent variable was the response to a work environment (WE) question as to whether their supervisor always creates an open and trusting environment. Regression models were adjusted for demographic characteristics with each of the LS7 CVD risk factors as dependent variables. Twenty-one percent of workers reported that their supervisor did not create an open and trusting environment. Trust was associated with increased adjusted odds of having many of the LS7 CVD risk factors. Among those workers whose supervisor created a mistrustful environment, the odds ratios were greatest (>20%) for having four or more of the LS7 CVD risk factors.


Journal Reference:  Alterman, T., et al. (2019). Trust in the Work Environment and Cardiovascular Disease Risk: Findings from the Gallup-Sharecare Well-Being Index, International Journal of Environmental Research on Public Health, 16(2), 230;


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