An Ocean of Stress? The relationship between psychosocial workload and mental strain among engine officers in the Swedish merchant fleet
Journal article, 2010
Objectives. The first purpose of this study was to compare the psychosocial working conditions
and mental health of our sample of maritime engine officers with a sample of British shorebased
professional engineers. The second purpose was to analyse the relationship between the
psychosocial working conditions onboard and mental strain for the Swedish maritime engine
Material and methods. There were a total of 731 engine officers in the Swedish merchant
fleet, almost all males with higher education. The British comparison sample consisted
of consisted 312 professional shore-based engineers. A questionnaire was distributed to the
Swedish engine officers with a modified version of the JCQ for the DC-S model, the Role conflict
and Ambiguity scale, and two items on family–work inter-role conflicts (WFI/FWI), as workload
indicators. The General Health Questionnaire (GHQ12) and Perceived Stress Scale (PSS10)
were used as strain indicators.
Results. There were no significant differences in perceived job stain or in WFI/FWI between
the Swedish engine officers and the British professional engineers in perceived job strain.
While the British shore-based engineers reported significantly higher role ambiguity the Swedish
engine officers perceived a significantly higher degree of role conflict and higher perceived
stress. Hierarchic linear regression analysis showed that the Role Stress was strongly related
to perceived stress (R2 = 0.319) as well as to mental health (R2 = 0.222). When introduced in
the second step the DC-S model was significantly related to the outcome measures, as was
WFI/FWI when finally introduced.
Conclusions. The main source of the high degree of perceived stress among the engine officers
does not seem to be the job content but may rather be understood from an interactional perspective,
where conflicting requirements are directed towards the individual officer. It can be assumed that
the fast technological and organizational changes and the increased pressure for economic profitability
that characterize the shipping industry have attenuated these role conflicts.