Toxic workplaces increase risk of depression by 300%

Sydney: Working for organisations that fail to prioritise employees’ mental health can increase the risk of being diagnosed with depression by threefold, finds a study.

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, found researchers from the University of South Australia.

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, said lead author Amy Zadow, in the study published in the British Medical Journal.

“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,” Zadow said.

While enthusiastic and committed workers are valued, working long hours can lead to depression, affecting an estimated 300 million people worldwide. Men are also more likely to become depressed if their workplace pays scant attention to their psychological health.

High levels of burnout and workplace bullying are also linked to corporations’ failure to support workers’ mental health, said researchers.

A separate paper co-authored by internationally renowned expert on workplace mental health, ARC Laureate Professor Maureen Dollard and published in the European Journal of Work and Organizational Psychology earlier this month, found that low psychosocial safety climate (PSC) was an important predictor of bullying and emotional exhaustion.

PSC is the term used to describe management practices and communication and participation systems that protect workers’ mental health and safety.

“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.

The study 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, Dollard noted.