Toxic work environments raise risk of depression three fold

Australian researchers have explored whether there is a connection between long working hours, toxic work culture and mental wellbeing

Lady on window ledge

Scientists from the University of South Australia have highlighted a three-fold increase in the risk of new major depressive symptoms linked to a toxic work environment.

The research, which was published in the British Medical Journal, followed 1084 full-time Australian employees over the course of a year. None of the study participants were experiencing major depressive symptoms at the start of the study.

The employees were asked about their working hours, psychosocial safety climate, work engagement and depressive symptoms.

Questions within the assessment of psychosocial safety climate included measures of commitment among senior management to psychological health, opportunities for communication about mental health issues and the degree of employee involvement in psychological safety.

The study team found that long working hours were not significantly related to new cases of major depressive symptoms overall.

However, when mild cases of depression were removed from the analysis, those who worked 41–48 or more than 55 hours a week were more likely to experience major depressive symptoms.

A low psychosocial safety climate was associated with a three-fold risk in new major depressive symptoms over the period.

High levels of work engagement were linked to longer working hours among the study participants.

Lead author, Dr Amy Zadow, shared that poor mental health can be traced back to poor management practices, priorities and values.

“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,” she said.

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The AOP Peer Support Line offers a free and confidential helpline for members and non-members at any stage of their career to discuss their problems with a trained peer. The line can be accessed at 0800 870 8401.