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January 3, 2022
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The Workplace’s
Effect on Mental Health

Yearlong Study Links Long Hours to Major Depression Symptoms

Employers who don’t prioritize worker psychological health increase their workers’ risk of major depression symptoms, according to the results of a recent study authored by researchers from the University of South Australia, Adelaide.

International Labour Organization (ILO) statistics indicate that 22% of the global working population, or 614.2 million workers, is working more than 48 hours per week.

Depression and other mood disorders are the most common mental illnesses worldwide with a global lifetime prevalence estimate of 12%.

The yearlong study, which was published June 23 in the online journal BMJ Open, involved 1,084 randomly selected, adult workers in Australia, who worked 35 or more hours weekly.

Using a computer-assisted telephone interviewing system to collect data, the researchers examined the relationship between psychosocial safety climate, work engagement, long working hours, and new cases of major depression symptoms.

The employees completed assessments at baseline and then again one year later.

Questionnaires asked them to indicate the number of hours they worked per week, with the categories being 35-40, 41-48, 49-54, and 55 or more.

Psychosocial Safety Climate

“Psychosocial safety climate” (PSC) is a phrase used to describe management practices, as well as communication and participation systems that protect workers’ mental health and safety.

Results show that workplaces with a low PSC had a threefold increase in new cases of major depression. Working long hours (defined in the study as working 41-48 hours per week or 55-plus hours per week, specifically) also was linked to the development of major depression symptoms.

Because PSC relates to management values and impacts working conditions, the researchers hypothesize that an organization that has a low PSC could lead to workers being pressed into long hours on the job.

“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,” lead study author Amy Jane Zadow, a research fellow at the University of South Australia, said in a press release.

Study Findings


• Long working hours were not significantly related to new cases of major depression symptoms; however, when mild cases were removed, those who worked long hours were positively related to major depression symptoms.

• Low PSC was associated with a threefold increase in the risk for new major depression symptoms. PSC was not related to long working hours, and long working hours did not mediate the relationship between PSC and new cases of major depression symptoms.

• The inverse relationship between PSC and major depression symptoms was stronger for men than women.

• Work engagement was positively related to long working hours. Long working hours mediated a positive relationship between work engagement and major depression symptoms when mild cases of major depression were removed.

Conclusions. The overall results of the study suggest that low workplace PSC and potentially long working hours increase the risk of new major depression symptoms. Furthermore, high worker engagement may increase the likelihood of long working hours and subsequent major depression symptoms.

Source: The study’s report was authored by Amy Jane Zadow, Maureen F. Dollard, Christian Dormann, and Paul Landsbergis, all of the University of South Australia.

To view the 14-page study, go to


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Safety Tip of the Week is edited by Managing Editor Tucker Scharfenberg and published each Monday by Grain Journal, Decatur, IL

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