Employees who work at companies which disregard staff wellbeing have a threefold increased risk of developing depression

The close correlation between toxic workplaces and increased risk of mental health issues has been highlighted by research conducted by the University of South Australia, published in the British Medical Journal.

Poor management practices were closely tied with the increased risk of staff developing depression whilst longer hours raise the likelihood of workers dying from heart disease or stroke.

In addition, it was found that men were more at risk of developing depression than their female colleagues if their employer failed to pay attention to their psychological health.

Dr. Amy Zadow, Lead Author of the research, stated that there is an intrinsic link between poor workplace mental health and inadequate 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.

However, the study suggests that now more attention is being paid to the link between depression and the poorly functioning work environments which could contribute to the mental health problems.

In a separate research paper c0-authored by Professor Maureen Dollard, it was found that a low psychosocial safety climate – which is defined as the practices and systems which protect workers’ mental health and safety – could predict bullying and emotional exhaustion.

This also appears to have a wider effect on team morale, with Professor Dollard explaining:

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.

In this study we investigated bullying in a group context and why it occurs. Sometimes stress is a trigger for bullying and in the worst cases it can set an ‘acceptable’ level of behaviour for other members of the team. But above all, bullying can be predicted from a company’s commitment to mental health, so it can be prevented.

The global costs of workplace bullying and worker burnout are significant, leading to absenteeism, poor work engagement, stress leave and low productivity.

Professor Dollard expresses that “top-level organisational change” is necessary to confront and remedy the issue.

*The research can be found here: Zadow, A.J., et al. (2021) Predicting new major depression symptoms from long working hours, psychosocial safety climate and work engagement: a population-based cohort study. BMJ Open. doi.org/10.1136/bmjopen-2020-044133.