Sick at work? Blame your boss!
The so-called sick building syndrome does not exist, according to a study. The study suggests that its cold-like symptoms can be mainly pinned to job stress, dissatisfaction and poor office relationships.
Sick building syndrome is a popular yet vague term to describe headaches, coughs, tired or itchy eyes, runny noses or inexplicable tiredness that are usually blamed on poor air quality in the office.
More than 4,000 British civil servants, aged 42-62 and working in 44 different buildings across London, were questioned about their health.
They were asked to list any symptoms of sick building syndrome, the physical properties of their offices and the demands of their job, including levels of support at work.
Separately, the buildings were also assessed by independent field workers.
They checked temperature, lighting intensity, levels of airborne bacteria, fungi and dust, humidity, ventilation flow, noise level and concentrations of carbon-dioxide (CO2) and airborne organic chemicals.
One in seven of the men and nearly one in five of the women respondents reported five or more symptoms of the syndrome.
There was some evidence -- but minor -- that those who reported high levels of the symptoms worked in offices that were too hot and dry and had relatively high levels of airborne germs and dust.
On the other hand, those with only low levels of the symptoms worked in buildings where there was poor air circulation and unacceptably high levels of CO2, noise, fungus and airborne chemicals.
In fact, the biggest factors linked with the symptoms were job stress and lack of support in the workplace.
"'Sick building syndrome' may be wrongly named," say the authors.
"Raised symptom reporting appears to be due less to poor physical conditions than to a working environment characterised by poor psychosocial conditions."
Previously research has highlighted a link between ill health and control over work, job demands, work overload, job category and overweening managers.
If sick building syndrome may not exist, its symptoms do, and they cost companies dearly in lost production, the paper says.
It says the lesson for bosses is that when such symptoms come to light, they should consider causes that go beyond the office's physical design and operation and delve into more complex areas, such as job roles and the autonomy of the workforce.
The study appears on Thursday in Occupational and Environmental Medicine, a journal published by the British Medical Association (BMA). Lead author is Mai Stafford, of the Department of Epidemiology at University College London.