Stress at Work: Evidence from Industries Affected by COVID-19 in Japan | BMC Public Health



This study examined the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic on the psychological well-being of employees in various industries in Japan. Data on work stress of working professionals, provided by Social Advance Inc. Japan, was collected between 2018 and 2020. The study design was approved by the appropriate legal and ethical review board of Social Advance Inc. Japan. Data was provided with informed consent, in accordance with legal and ethical guidelines. All methods were applied in accordance with ethical guidelines and approved by the ethics committee of Social Advance Inc. Japan associated with Kyushu University, Japan.

The data included employees’ detailed psychological well-being status, their perceived rating of their workplace, and their demographic information. According to the directive of the Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare, Japan [24], the government requires companies with more than 50 employees to conduct an annual employee psychological well-being survey through a third-party company. The particular advantage of this data is the high response rate which, on average, is around 85% of respondents in each company. A total of 673,071 valid observations were collected from 2018 to 2020. In 2020, 320,348 valid observations of work stress were made, while in 2019 the sample size was 219,768. In 2018, 132 955 observations were derived.

Job stress and highly stressed employee

Employees had to answer the questions listed in the questionnaire provided by the Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare [24]. Feeling or experience of activity; full of energy; animated; angry; internally bored or aggravated; irritable; extremely tired; exhausted; tired or listless; tense; worried or insecure; restless; depressed; doing anything was a problem; concentrate; dark; manage the work; sad; dizzy; joint pain; headache; neck and/or shoulder stiffness; lower back pain; eye fatigue; heart palpitations or shortness of breath; stomach and / or intestinal problems; appetite; diarrhea and/or constipation; sleep [17]. The complete detailed questionnaire is displayed in Supplementary File 1. Each question had the same response choices: almost never = 1, sometimes = 2, often = 3 and almost always = 4. Work stress is a sum of the values ​​chosen for the 29 question items (see Supplementary Sheet 1). The job stress score ranged from 29 to 116, with higher scores indicating lower levels of employee stress. The items ‘energetic’, ‘joyful’ and ‘lively’ were scored backwards. In accordance with the ministry’s guidelines for the Brief Job Stress Questionnaire, an employee who met one of the following two conditions was classified as a high-stress employee: (1) an employee job stress score greater than 77, or (2) work stress scores related to the evaluation of the working environment and surrounding support greater than 63 and 77, out of 116, respectively.

Industry classification dummies in this study included utilities, service industry (other), real estate, medical/welfare, wholesale/retail, research academic, professional/technical services, accommodation/catering, construction, information/communication, education, manufacturing. and transport/postal services.


Other explanatory variables included female (yes = 2, no = 1), employee age, and firm size. Firm size was a continuous variable that measured the number of employees in each firm.

Working environment

Determinants of high job stress among employees included nine aspects of work environment and three aspects of surrounding support. The top five aspects of the work environment included the amount of difficult workload, the quality of difficult workload, difficult body load in the workplace, difficult interpersonal relationships in the workplace, and an environment terrible physical work. Ratings of these five work environment aspects ranged from 1 to 4, with higher scores indicating worse work environment situations. The other four aspects of workplace assessments included good work control in the workplace, appropriate use of individual skills at work, appropriate matching of skills to job content, and a good balance between work and reward. . These four aspects were rated on a scale of 1 to 4, with higher scores indicating better work situations and a good fit between the employee and their job. Surrounding supports for the employee included support from the boss, co-workers, family, and friends. The support rating ranged from 1 to 4, with higher values ​​indicating better levels of support.

Table 1 depicts employee job stress in different industries between 2018 and 2020. Industries are ranked in order of employee job stress level, with smaller numbers indicating poorer employee psychological well-being. We found that employees working in the wholesale/retail and accommodation/food sectors had lower psychological well-being, while those working in transport and real estate had the lowest levels of stress. the lowest. Table 2 presents the descriptive statistics and Cronbach’s α scores. All scores are greater than 0.7, indicating item reliability. The results of the correlation analysis for the variables are summarized in Supplementary File 1. Table A1 presents the Pearson correlation coefficients between work stress and the dependent variables.

Table 1 Work stress of employees among 13 industries from 2018 to 2020
Table 2 Descriptive statistics

study design

This study illustrated the differences in the psychological well-being of employees in various industries before and after the onset of the pandemic. The dependent variables that expressed employees’ psychological well-being were job stress and highly stressed employees. Job stress was a continuous variable that ranged from 29 to 116, with higher values ​​indicating poorer psychological well-being (Eq. 2). The stressed employee was a binary variable identified by the employees based on the guideline proposed by the Japanese government (Eq. 3). When the dependent variable is a binary variable, the logit model is considered appropriate; however, since job stress is a continuous variable, the ordinary least squares method was used [23, 25]. First, the overall heterogeneity of job stress across industries was investigated, as shown in the equations. (1 and 2). The logit models used for the regression are shown in the equations. (3), (4) and (5).

$${S}_{it}={theta}_0+{Y}_{it}{theta}_1+{X}_{it}delta +{D}_tgamma +{varepsilon}_{ it}$$


$${S}_i={theta}_0+{Y}_i{theta}_1+{X}_idelta +{varepsilon}_i$$


or SI designated employee I ranging from 29 to 116, with higher values ​​indicating poorer psychological well-being. you means the year between 2018 and 2020. Yes included a set of dummy variables capturing the industry fixed effect, which includes medicine, wholesale/retail, accommodation/food, service industry (other), real estate , professional services, construction, education, entertainment, manufacturing, transportation/postal, information/communication, and professional services. X included explanatory variables that affected industry selection and psychological well-being of employees, including female gender, age, and firm size. Dyou was a set of year dummies. The estimated parameters were θ0, θ1, δand γand the error term was ε.

Comparisons of high employee stress in various industries were investigated using the logit model (Equation 3).

$${H}_{it}={a}_0+{Y}_{it}{a}_1+{X}_{it}{a}_2+{D}_tgamma +{varepsilon}_{it }$$


$${H}_i={alpha}_0+{Y}_i{alpha}_1+{X}_ibeta +{varepsilon}_i$$


Or HI designated employee I high stress status of (yes=1, no=0), based on the standard set by Japanese government guidelines. you means the year between 2018 and 2020. Yes referred to a set of industry dummies indicating the industry to which the employee belonged. X denoted the explanatory variables. Dyou was a set of year dummies. The estimated parameters were a0, a1, a2, α0, α1and βand the error term was ε.

The relationship between the high stress state of employees and the determining factors was studied using the equation. (4), based on the logit model.



Again, HI refers to the employee’s high stress state, while Z refers to the determining factors that assess the quality of the working environment. Separate regression analyzes were performed for each industry for all factors, which included quantity of workload, quality of difficult workload, difficult body load at work, difficult interpersonal relationships at work, environmental terrible physical work, good work control in the workplace, appropriate use of individual skills at work. work, an appropriate match of skills with job content, a balance between work and reward, and support from boss, co-workers, family and friends.


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