Toxic workplaces increase risk of depression by 300%, researchers find

·2 min read
A view of central Adelaide, the city which is home to the University of South Australia.  (Getty Images)
A view of central Adelaide, the city which is home to the University of South Australia. (Getty Images)

Staff who work for organisations that disregard their employees’ wellbeing are three times more likely than their peers to have depression, according to a new study.

Researchers at the University of South Australia made the finding after a year-long population study, with their results published in the British Medical Journal.

While companies with poor management practices increase the risk of depression among their workers, long working hours raise the risk of staff dying from heart disease or having a stroke, they found.

The team, from the university’s Psychosocial Safety Climate (PSC) Observatory, also discovered that men were more likely than women to suffer from depression if their employers neglected their psychological health.

Dr Amy Zadow, the study’s lead author, said poor work culture can have a significant impact on people’s mental wellbeing.

“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.

The research comes shortly after the publication of a study co-authored by Dr Zadow’s colleague Maureen Dollard, which suggests that high levels of burnout and workplace bullying are linked to firms’ failure to address mental health issues.

Speaking about her work, Ms Dollard, head of the PSC Observatory, said “bullying can be predicted from a company’s commitment to mental health, so it can be prevented”.

She added that the global costs of bullying and burnout are significant as a result of absenteeism and low productivity. To address this problem, Ms Dollard called for “top-level organisational change”.

Depression is thought to affect an estimated 300 million people, with reports indicating that more people have been suffering from bad mental health due to the pandemic. For example, data from the Office for National Statistics shows one in five adults in the UK experienced depression between January and March, up from one in 10 before the coronavirus crisis.

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