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Overworked > Overbearing: Employee Depression Linked to Management Style, Not Workload

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Danish researchers studying worker depression have found that a boss’ management style factors more clearly in employee stress levels than does size of workload.  This study, earning media attention months after its completion, goes against the common thought process relating to worker depression as the researches discovered workplace injustice is the main driver of mental unhealth:

Led by the Department of Occupational Medicine at Aarhus University Hospital, researchers questioned 4,237 public employees between 2007 and 2009, interviewing many of them to pinpoint cases of clinical depression. While it’s a common perception that a high workload contributes heavily to workplace depression, the researchers said their results showed something different.

”We may have a tendency to associate depression and stress with work pressure and workload; however, our study shows that the workload actually has no effect on workplace depression,” Aarhus University psychologist Matias Brødsgaard Grynderup, told Science Nordic.

Instead, the study concluded that workplaces with low levels of institutional justice put employees at risk for work-motivated depression. Workplace injustice is defined by the researchers as a combination of factors, including consistency of decision-making procedures, degree of transparency and cooperation among employees, as well as “the degree to which supervisors consider employees’ viewpoints, suppresses personal bias and treats the employees with kindness, consideration and truthfulness.”

For American workers, depression is all to common.  A July Gallup poll showed that 12 percent of American workers have been diagnosed with depression at some point.  It also showed absenteeism due to depression costs U.S. workplaces $23 billion annually. Fairness, combined with a sense of efficacy, are key in limiting depression among workers.  From The Huffington Post:

”When the employees’ sense of justice plays such a central role in minimizing the risk of depression, this is probably the area that the preventive work should focus on,” Grynderup told ScienceNordic. “I recommend a management style in which there is a clearly expressed wish to treat employees properly – combined with a transparent organizational structure.”

Dan Witters, a principal at Gallup and research director of the American poll, made a similar point to Forbes over the summer, noting that workers are generally happier when they feel like their opinions count, are given regular recognition and are encouraged to develop within the company.


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