Summary: Working in a toxic environment or one in which the mental health of workers is not supported was associated with a three fold increased risk of depression. Additionally, working long hours was linked to an increased risk of death as a result of stroke or a cardiovascular event.
Source: University of South Australia
A year-long Australian population study has found that full time workers employed by organisations that fail to prioritise their employees’ mental health have a threefold increased risk of being diagnosed with depression.
And while working long hours is a risk factor for dying from cardiovascular disease or having a stroke, poor management practices pose a greater risk for depression, the researchers found.
The University of South Australia study, published in the British Medical Journal today, is led by UniSA’s Psychosocial Safety Climate Observatory, the world’s first research platform exploring workplace psychological health and safety.
Psychosocial safety climate (PSC) is the term used to describe management practices and communication and participation systems that protect workers’ mental health and safety.
Lead author, Dr Amy Zadow, says that poor workplace mental health can be traced back to poor management practices, priorities and values, which then flows through to high job demands and low resources.
“Evidence shows that companies who fail to reward or acknowledge their employees for hard work, impose unreasonable demands on workers, and do not give them autonomy, are placing their staff at a much greater risk of depression,” says Dr Zadow.
Internationally renowned expert on workplace mental health, ARC Laureate Professor Maureen Dollard, says the study found that while enthusiastic and committed workers are valued, working long hours can lead to depression. Men are also more likely to become depressed if their workplace pays scant attention to their psychological health.
Due to the global burden of depression, which affects an estimated 300 million people worldwide and shows no sign of abating despite available treatments, more attention is now being paid to poorly functioning work environments which could contribute to the problem.
High levels of burnout and workplace bullying are also linked to corporations’ failure to support workers’ mental health.
A second paper co-authored by Professor Dollard and published in the European Journal of Work and Organizational Psychology earlier this month, found that low PSC was an important predictor of bullying and emotional exhaustion.
“Lack of consultation with employees and unions over workplace health and safety issues, and little support for stress prevention, is linked to low PSC in companies.
“We also found that bullying in a work unit can not only negatively affect the victim, but also the perpetrator and team members who witness that behaviour. It is not uncommon for everyone in the same unit to experience burnout as a result.
“In this study we investigated bullying in a group context and why it occurs. Sometimes stress is a trigger for bullying and in the worst cases it can set an ‘acceptable’ level of behaviour for other members of the team. But above all bullying can be predicted from a company’s commitment to mental health, so it can be prevented,” Prof Dollard says.
The global costs of workplace bullying and worker burnout are significant, manifested in absenteeism, poor work engagement, stress leave and low productivity.
The extent of the problem was recognised in 2019 with the International Labour Organization (ILO) implementing a Global Commission on the Future of Work and calling for “a human-centred approach, putting people and the work they do at the centre of economic and social policy and business practice”.
“The practical implications of this research are far reaching. High levels of worker burnout are extremely costly to organisations and it’s clear that top-level organisational change is needed to address the issue,” Prof Dollard says.
About this work and depression research news
Source: University of South Australia
Contact: Candy Gibson – University of South Australia
Image: The image is credited to University of South Australia
Original Research: Open access.
“Predicting new major depression symptoms from long working hours, psychosocial safety climate and work engagement: a population-based cohort study” by Amy Zadow et al. BMJ Open
Predicting new major depression symptoms from long working hours, psychosocial safety climate and work engagement: a population-based cohort study
This study sought to assess the association between long working hours, psychosocial safety climate (PSC), work engagement (WE) and new major depression symptoms emerging over the next 12 months. PSC is the work climate supporting workplace psychological health.
Australian prospective cohort population data from the states of New South Wales, Western Australia and South Australia.
At Time 1, there were 3921 respondents in the sample. Self-employed, casual temporary, unclassified, those with working hours <35 (37% of 2850) and participants with major depression symptoms at Time 1 (6.7% of 1782) were removed. The final sample was a population-based cohort of 1084 full-time Australian employees.
Primary and secondary outcome measures
The planned and measured outcomes were new cases of major depression symptoms.
Long working hours were not significantly related to new cases of major depression symptoms; however, when mild cases were removed, the 41–48 and ≥55 long working hour categories were positively related to major depression symptoms. Low PSC was associated with a threefold increase in risk for new major depression symptoms. PSC was not related to long working hours, and long working hours did not mediate the relationship between PSC and new cases of major depression symptoms.
The inverse relationship between PSC and major depression symptoms was stronger for males than females. Additional analyses identified that WE was positively related to long working hours. Long working hours (41–48 and ≥55 hours) mediated a positive relationship between WE and major depression symptoms when mild cases of major depression were removed.
The results suggest that low workplace PSC and potentially long working hours (41–48; ≥55 hours/week) increase the risk of new major depression symptoms. Furthermore, high WE may increase long working hours and subsequent major depression symptoms.