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June 30, 2021
by Elizabeth Pratt

Toxic Workplaces Increase Risk For Depression

June 30, 2021 08:00 by Elizabeth Pratt  [About the Author]

Toxic workplaces raise the risk of depression in workers by 30 percent.

Researchers from Australia found that employees of organizations who didn’t prioritize the mental health of their workers had an increased risk of being diagnosed with depression.

“We found that poor work context or climate was more important than long working hours. Working in poor PSC (psychosocial safety climate) contexts, where there is a lack of regard for workers mental health is associated with future depression symptoms,” Professor Maureen Dollard, co-author of the study and ARC Laureate told Theravive.

In the year-long study, the researchers found that poor choices by management had a greater influence on depressions rates in employees than long working hours. Such management decisions fall under the concept of psychosocial safety climate (PSC).

“PSC refers to the organisations policies, practices and procedures to protect worker psychological health. When worker psychological health is not prioritised in organisations, when there is no communication or participation systems to report, discuss or resolve risk factors to psychological health, workers are likely to develop depressive symptoms, cardiovascular disease symptoms, MSDs, emotional exhaustion, less engagement, sickness absence. Low PSC affects the worker and the organisation’s bottom line,” Dollard said.

“Poor PSC is largely driven by management values and priorities. When managers value worker psychological health and set in place communication and participation systems to report, discuss or resolve risk factors to psychological health, we expect high levels of PSC.” 

The researchers say that companies who fail to give their workers autonomy, don’t reward and acknowledge their employees for their hard work, and are unreasonably demanding of their workers set their employees up for a higher risk of depression. 

With more than 300 million people around the world living with depression, attention is being drawn to the role workplaces may have in this problem.

“Mental health problems endemic globally may well be prevented and treated by improving the corporate climate for worker psychological health rather than resorting to medications,” Dollard said.

The researchers found men were more likely to experience depression if their workplace didn’t pay enough attention to their psychological health. They also found that a company failure to address the mental health needs of their workers is also associated with workplace bullying and high levels of burnout and emotional exhaustion.

In the case of workplace bullying, the researchers argue, such behaviour doesn’t just negatively impact the person being bullied, but also the person doing the bullying and those who witness the bullying. Everyone involved can as a result experience burnout.

Both workplace bullying and burnout in employees can take a significant toll on the workplace as well. Absenteeism, poor engagement with work tasks, low productivity and workers needing to take stress leave are just some of the consequences. 

The researchers say consultation with employees and unions on matters relating to workplace health and safety is one way employers can improve the psychosocial safety climate in their workplaces, and protect the mental health of their employees. 

In recognition of the problem, in 2019 the International Labour Organization established the Global Commission on the Future of work and called for a human centred approach to the workplace, that puts people and their work at the center of business practices and policies.

Dollard says it is important employers do their part in ensuring their workplaces aren’t toxic.

“First and foremost employers should ensure that the workplace climate is one that respects worker psychological health and offers work that is not too demanding, is adequately resourced and free from harassment, violence and bullying,” she said.

“In the case where stressors are unavoidable adequate resources to handle the stress should be provided. Where workers are distressed, the workplace should be monitored for risks (i.e., assess PSC levels), and access to services to help workers recover is indicated.” 

About the Author

Elizabeth Pratt

Elizabeth Pratt is a medical journalist and producer. Her work has appeared on Healthline, The Huffington Post, Fox News, The Australian Broadcasting Corporation, The Sydney Morning Herald,, Escape, The Cusp and Skyscanner. You can read more of her articles here. Or learn more about Elizabeth and contact her via her LinkedIn and Twitter profiles.

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