How work conditions affect depression

In brief

  • Several workplace factors are connected with depression among female workers, and these could be targeted for change through work policies.
  • One area for potential change is improving the balance between worker effort and rewards from the job. Another is promoting work-family balance for workers with young children, such as providing family sick-day leave.

Published: January 2006

Why was this study done?

Estimates suggest that at any point in time, six per cent of Canadian workers experience depression. Working conditions, family situation and spillover may contribute to a person’s depression. Spillover refers to negative or positive situations at work that affect home life and vice versa. Many studies have explored how each of these factors affects depression separately. In this study, researchers looked at the combined effects of all factors and identified which had greater influence on depression.

How was the study done?

The researchers surveyed 218 female workers at health-care centres in three cities in the province of Ontario using several standard study questionnaires. The women were asked about work conditions such as time pressures, level of responsibility, physical demands and level of support, among many other questions. They were also asked about spillover of work life to family life, and vice versa. Finally, the women were surveyed for symptoms of depression.

What did the researchers find?

More than 30 per cent of the women reported enough symptoms of depression to suggest the presence of clinical depression. The researchers found a direct relationship between the following factors and symptoms of depression:

  • high worker effort and low reward from the job
  • a high level of negative spillover from work to family
  • a low level of positive spillover from family to work
  • a low education level
  • having children under the age of 18 at home

What are some strengths and weaknesses of the study?

The study was thorough in identifying and measuring factors. The researchers also captured a diverse sample of health-care workers. One weakness is that the participants volunteered, so they may not represent all health-care workers.