Horrible Bosses Trump Workload in Study of Workplace Depression
Many people attribute their regular, daily stress to tough workloads imposed by their employer. Long hours, budget cutbacks and an awareness that someone else would gladly line up for the position are often cited by individuals that feel their job is too demanding.
While heavy workloads may contribute to normal levels of stress, the blame may lie more squarely with the practices of one’s boss when it comes to more serious mental health issues like depression. With approximately 12 percent of Americans experiencing depression at some point in their lives, a change in employer awareness of mental health could have widespread impact.
A Danish study shows that those that are unhappy or depressed at work may need to examine the practices of their employer.
The results, published in three separate articles over the past two years, are the product of the Department of Occupational Medicine at Aarhus University Hospital. The researchers interviewed 4,237 public employees – including American workers – from 2007 to 2009 to determine risk factors for developing workplace depression.
The researchers were surprised when they analyzed the results. While it was expected that an intense level of demands at work would top the list, it was instead determined to have no impact at all on workplace depression.
The workplaces that had the highest levels of risk for workplace depression were those that had a low level of institutional justice. The researchers measured workplace injustice according to a list of factors, including the degree of transparency and cooperation that employees report, the level of kindness and consideration shown to employees and the consistency of decision-making procedures.
The increased risk for workplace depression may come with a price tag for employers, many of which provide mental health coverage in employee benefits. The article notes that the total cost to employers may be around $23 million each year. This may be motivating for managers and business owners wanting to reduce costs.
Dan Witters, a principal at Gallup that led the American poll, said that workers are generally more satisfied in their jobs when they feel that their contribution is heard and appreciated, and when they are regularly recognized for their work and encouraged to further develop their talents within the company.
Witters notes that engaging employees is a low-cost, smart strategy for employers to reduce depression among employees. Prevention is a much more effective strategy than treatment when it comes to depression and other mental health conditions. Therapy can be time-consuming and expensive, and medications take time and are by no means foolproof.
Further study should examine whether similar results are obtained when employees of private companies are surveyed. In addition, it may be possible to determine which specific employer’s efforts are most effective at building the employees’ experience of workplace justice.
Given the attention that the study has received in the media the results of the study could have widespread impact. From low level managers to CEOs, those in supervisory positions can act immediately to improve employee mental health by engaging in behaviors that encourage transparency and the sharing of ideas between management and employees.
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