How are social stressors at work related to well-being and health? A systematic review and meta-analysis

Gerhardt, Christin; Semmer, Norbert K.; Sauter, Sabine; Walker, Alexandra; de Wijn, Nathal; Kälin, Wolfgang; Kottwitz, Maria U.; Kersten, Bernd; Ulrich, Benjamin; Elfering, Achim (2021). How are social stressors at work related to well-being and health? A systematic review and meta-analysis. BMC public health, 21(1), p. 890. BioMed Central 10.1186/s12889-021-10894-7

Gerhardt_et_al_BMC_Public_Health_2021.pdf - Published Version
Available under License Creative Commons: Attribution (CC-BY).

Download (470kB) | Preview

Background: Social relationships are crucial for well-being and health, and considerable research has established social stressors as a risk for well-being and health. However, researchers have used many different constructs, and it is unclear if these are actually different or reflect a single overarching construct. Distinct patterns of associations with health/well-being would indicate separate constructs, similar patterns would indicate a common core construct, and remaining differences could be attributed to situational characteristics such as frequency or intensity. The current meta-analysis therefore investigated to what extent different social stressors show distinct (versus similar) patterns of associations with well-being and health.

Methods: We meta-analysed 557 studies and investigated correlations between social stressors and outcomes in terms of health and well-being (e.g. burnout), attitudes (e.g. job satisfaction), and behaviour (e.g. counterproductive work behaviour). Moderator analyses were performed to determine if there were differences in associations depending on the nature of the stressor, the outcome, or both. To be included, studies had to be published in peer-reviewed journals in English or German; participants had to be employed at least 50% of a full-time equivalent (FTE).

Results: The overall relation between social stressors and health/well-being was of medium size (r = -.30, p < .001). Type of social stressor and outcome category acted as moderators, with moderating effects being larger for outcomes than for stressors. The strongest effects emerged for job satisfaction, burnout, commitment, and counterproductive work behaviour. Type of stressor yielded a significant moderation, but differences in effect sizes for different stressors were rather small overall. Rather small effects were obtained for physical violence and sexual mistreatment, which is likely due to a restricted range because of rare occurrence and/or underreporting of such intense stressors.

Conclusions: We propose integrating diverse social stressor constructs under the term "relational devaluation" and considering situational factors such as intensity or frequency to account for the remaining variance. Practical implications underscore the importance for supervisors to recognize relational devaluation in its many different forms and to avoid or minimize it as far as possible in order to prevent negative health-related outcomes for employees.

Item Type:

Journal Article (Original Article)


07 Faculty of Human Sciences > Institute of Psychology
07 Faculty of Human Sciences > Institute of Psychology > Work and Organisational Psychology

UniBE Contributor:

Semmer, Norbert Karl, Kälin, Wolfgang, Kottwitz, Maria Undine, Elfering, Achim


100 Philosophy > 150 Psychology
300 Social sciences, sociology & anthropology




BioMed Central




Christine Soltermann

Date Deposited:

04 Mar 2022 14:27

Last Modified:

17 Mar 2023 11:18

Publisher DOI:


PubMed ID:


Uncontrolled Keywords:

Health; Relational devaluation; SOS-model; Social stressors; Well-being




Actions (login required)

Edit item Edit item
Provide Feedback