Open Access Research article

The Gutenberg Health Study: measuring psychosocial factors at work and predicting health and work-related outcomes with the ERI and the COPSOQ questionnaire

Matthias Nuebling1*, Andreas Seidler2, Susan Garthus-Niegel2, Ute Latza3, Mandy Wagner2, Janice Hegewald2, Falk Liebers3, Sylvia Jankowiak3, Isabella Zwiener4, Philipp S Wild567 and Stephan Letzel8

  • * Corresponding author: Matthias Nuebling

  • † Equal contributors

Author Affiliations

1 FFAS, Freiburg Research Center for Occupational and Social Medicine, Bertoldstr. 27, D-79098 Freiburg, Germany

2 Institute and Outpatient Clinics of Occupational and Social Medicine, TU Dresden, Faculty of Medicine, Fetscherstr 74, D-01307 Dresden, Germany

3 Federal Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (BAuA), Nöldnerstr. 40-42, D-10317 Berlin, Germany

4 Institute of Medical Biostatistics, Epidemiology and Informatics (IMBEI), University Medical Center, Johannes Gutenberg University Mainz, Obere Zahlbacher Straße 69, D-55131 Mainz, Germany

5 Center for Thrombosis and Hemostasis, University Medical Center Mainz, Johannes Gutenberg University Mainz, Langenbeckstr 1, D-55131 Mainz, Germany

6 Department of Medicine 2, University Medical Center Mainz, Johannes Gutenberg University Mainz, Langenbeckstr. 1, D-55131 Mainz, Germany

7 German Center for Cardiovascular Research (DZHK), University Medical Center Mainz, Langenbeckstr. 1, D-55131 Mainz, Germany

8 Institute of Occupational, Social and Environmental Medicine, University Medical Center of the Johannes Gutenberg University Mainz, Obere Zahlbacher Straße 67, D-55131 Mainz, Germany

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BMC Public Health 2013, 13:538  doi:10.1186/1471-2458-13-538

Published: 4 June 2013



Several instruments have been developed to assess psychosocial workload. We compared two of these instruments, the Effort-Reward Imbalance (ERI) model and the Copenhagen Psychosocial Questionnaire (COPSOQ) with regard to congruent validity and internal validity.


This analysis is based on a population-based sample of the baseline examination of 2,783 employees from the Gutenberg Health Study (GHS). About half of the participants completed the ERI questionnaire (n = 1,342), the other half completed the COPSOQ (n = 1,441). First, the two samples were compared and descriptive analyses were carried out calculating mean values for both instruments in general, then separately for age, gender and main occupational groups. Second, we analyzed the relationship between ERI and COPSOQ scales on the workplace situation and on the workplace outcomes: job satisfaction, general health, burnout, satisfaction with life, by applying stepwise logistic regression analysis.

Results and discussion

For the majority of occupations, high effort as reflected by the ERI corresponded with high demands as reflected by the COPSOQ. Comparably, high reward (according to ERI) yielded a good agreement with high “influence and development” (according to COPSOQ). However, we could also find differences between ERI and COPSOQ concerning the intensity of psychosocial workload in some occupations (e.g., physicians/pharmacists or warehouse managers/warehousemen/transport workers). These differences point to differing theoretical concepts of ERI and COPSOQ. When the ability of ERI and COPSOQ was examined to determine the associations with health and work outcomes, burnout could be better predicted by the COPSOQ; this might be due to the fact that COPSOQ comprises the constructs “work-privacy conflict” and “emotional demand”, which are closely related to burnout. However, methodological differences between these instruments limit their direct comparability.


The ERI and COPSOQ instrument yielded similar results for most occupational groups. The slightly stronger association between psychosocial workload as assessed by COPSOQ and burnout might be explained by its broader approach. The ability of the ERI and COPSOQ instrument to reflect relevant risk factors for clinically manifest disorders (e.g., coronary heart disease) will be derived from subsequent prospective analyses of the GHS with the follow-up data.

Psychosocial factors; Stress; Strain; COPSOQ; ERI