WORKPLACE / NOV. 01, 2013
version 8, draft 8

Workplace Depression Depends on How The Boss Treats You

The extent to which you are unhappy or even depressed at work is tied to how fairly your boss treats you, a new study concluded. The research by the Department of Occupational Medicine at Aarhus University Hospital in Denmark questioned 4,237 public employees between 2007 and 2009 and interviewed many of them to identify cases of clinical depression. The study rejected the notion that a big workload is what brings employees down, instead it is workplace injustice that relates to depression.

Workplace injustice denotes a combination of factors, including consistency of decision-making procedures, degree of transparency and cooperation among employees, as well as the extent to which supervisors consider employees’ viewpoints, control personal bias and treat their staff with kindness, and honesty.

A heavy workload does not affect workplace depression

While many people associate depression and stress with work pressure and high workload, the study points out that these have no effect on whether or not employees become depressed. It is rather the work environment and the level of being treated unfairly by management that plays a significant role on an employee’s mood. According to Dr. Matias Grynderup, of the Department of Clinical Medicine at Aarhus University: “When high levels of work pressure and depression appear to be linked in people’s consciousness, it is not because a heavy workload increases the risk of depression. Instead, depression can make work assignments appear insurmountable, even though the depression was not caused by the workload.” Consequently, the findings of the study suggest that the likelihood of workplace depression cannot be reduced by changing the workload. 

Depression involves high costs for companies

In the meantime, Gallup.com reports that roughly 12% of workers in the U.S. have been diagnosed with depression at some point in their lives and this entailed an estimated 68 million additional days off work each year than their peers. This in turn cost more than $23 billion per year in lost productivity to American employers.

On the other hand, in Europe, one in ten employees have taken time off work because of depression and an average of 36 days were lost per depression occurrence, which amounts to more than 21,000 days of lost working time in this group of people. These results were reported by the Impact of Depression in the Workplace in Europe Audit.

Business initiatives to combat workplace depression

Many businesses acknowledge that mental health is a primary workplace health issue nowadays and as such have developed plans to improve the wellbeing of their employees. British Telecom introduced the Target Depression in the Workplace Initiative aiming to bring many positive changes in its workplace mental health practices. The mental health framework of the company involved:

  • Promoting employee wellbeing and preventing distress (by posting tips on the corporate intranet)
  • Identifying distress and proactively intervening to cure diagnosed employees (through online stress risk assessment and companion training for line managers)
  • Supporting and treating accordingly people experiencing mental health problems (e.g.: announcing ‘advance directives’ to identify early warnings signs and coming up with action plans)

This approach has helped reduce stress and anxiety sick leave, by 24% in one area.

Conversely, the management of Expedition Engineering, a London-based engineering and design consultancy, involved its staff in company decision-making and empowered its workforce to manage their own workload and also work from home. What’s more, staff are offered a selection of benefits to choose from to match their needs. Options include travelcard loans, bicycle loans, private health insurance and gym membership. They have also introduced the ‘Tenth Day’ scheme, where staff takes every tenth working day off.The results of this employee welfare strategy are reflected by the minimal staff turnover and stable loyalty from customers.

All in all, the employees’ sense of justice and transparency in the workplace as well as the overall set of mental health policies of a company are vital factors for promoting a good mental health in the work environment and minimising the risk of depression. Organisations must take proactive steps to prevent their employees from experiencing depression so that they boost their productivity, reputation , employee and customer satisfaction.

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