Full-time employees who work for organisations that fail to prioritise their staff’s mental health are three times more likely to be diagnosed with depression, a year-long Australian population study has discovered.
The University of South Australia study, published in the British Medical Journal, found that while working long hours is a risk factor in developing cardiovascular disease or having a stroke, poor management poses a greater risk for depression.
Lead author, Dr Amy Zadow, said that poor workplace 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,' Dr Zadow said.
Workplace mental health expert, Australian Research Council Laureate Professor Maureen Dollard said 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.
'Bullying in a work unit can not only negatively affect the victim, but also the perpetrator and team members who witness that behaviour'
The study was 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.
With depression estimated to effect 300 million people worldwide, increasing attention is being focused on how poorly functioning work environments could be contributing to the problem. However, depression isn’t the only symptom: high levels of burnout and workplace bullying are also linked to organisations’ failure to support workers' mental health.
A second paper, co-authored by Professor Dollard and recently published in the European Journal of Work and Organizational Psychology, 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,' Professor Dullard said.
'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 global costs of workplace bullying and worker burnout are significant, and make themselves noticeable 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'.