Depression Symptoms Rise When You Work Long Hours

depression symptoms

What are some of the typical factors that increase depression symptoms? Well, we’re all working hard trying to get the job done and that often means working longer hours and sometimes on the weekend. Also, 24/7 connectivity keeps us at work almost all of the time. Recent research reveals the toll that extended working hours have on our mental health. The study drew from the UK Household Longitudinal Study 2018, of 11,215 men and 12,188 women.

The results showed that extra-long working hours and working weekends are associated with increased depression symptoms in women. However, men only experience a rise in depression symptoms when they consistently worked overtime on the weekend. For this article, we unpick the research to look at the impact of long working hours and weekend work on our mental health.

Pressures of Staying Connected 24/7

Work patterns that have extended working hours is a response to the demands of a 24/7 globalised society. Unregulated and frequently worked overtime that is sometimes not paid is the current work pattern of the 21st century. These practices are increasing our stress levels and leading to millions of sick and unproductive days every year. The impact on our lifestyle is apparent, including work-life balance goals, increase family conflict and lead to relationship breakdowns.

There are differences between males and females in how work is organised and rewarded. The inequality of earnings (see our article, the fight for gender equality) creates further stress to work longer hours. Men and women also seem to respond differently to work demands, especially around the quantity of work and time pressures to complete that work.

What Are the Typical Weekly Work Hours?

In the study, men work longer hours than women.  Almost half the men work longer than the standard 35–40 hours/week. Less than a quarter of the women work more than 35-40 hours per week, however, and nearly half of women work part-time. The higher their education, income and occupation, the less both men and women work each week.  Those who work extra-long hours have the highest household incomes and greatest work autonomy.

For married couples who have children, women work less. However, having children does not impact the working hours of men.  Generally, part-time workers are the most likely to be in routine jobs and have the least work autonomy. The lack of autonomy means that there is little negotiation around working hours. Women are most likely to work part-time and have little say in their working hours.

How Many Worked on the Weekend?

In this study, more men than women work weekends. Over two-thirds of men and half of the women work on the weekend. What was interesting is that for those who work weekends, they only work some of the weekend, rather than the whole two days.

Married men work the longest hours, but they do this during the working week and are less likely to work on the weekend. For both men and women, the higher their age, education, income and occupation mean they are less likely to take on weekend work.

Those who work on weekends tend to be in routine jobs and in less physically active jobs. They are more likely to be unhappy with their pay, dislike their job and have low work autonomy.

Increase in Depression Symptoms

This study found that there was no difference in the number of depression symptoms for men working fewer or longer hours or on the weekend. Whereas, women working long hours and those working most/all weekends had significantly more symptoms.

The number of depression symptoms is higher for older workers, smokers, and those with low incomes, chronic illness, job and income dissatisfaction, very physical jobs and low work autonomy.

Single men, in routine jobs, and with no qualifications had fewer depression symptoms. However, men working part-time had significantly more symptoms than men working standard hours.

Women who are separated/divorced/widowed, have older children and have qualifications, have the highest number of depression symptoms. Those working extra-long hours have more symptoms compared to women working standard hours. Women who work most/all weekends have significantly more symptoms of depression.

Implications for Business

The results suggest that women, but not men, working extra-long hours are more likely to have depression symptoms than those working standard full-time hours. The study also found high signs of depression levels in men working the fewest hours. Women who work most/all weekends have significantly more symptoms of depression.

Women working weekends tend to be in low-paid service jobs, and those who work extra-long hours may have the double-burden of a job and domestic duties. Previous studies have found that when we calculate unpaid housework and caring hours and add them to working hours, women generally work longer hours than men and this is linked to poorer physical and mental health.

What does this mean for employers? First, you need to monitor the mental health of your employees, especially if you operate in the services sector. Second, when you employ people in part-time roles, you should expect them to work two or more jobs, and that fatigue may play a role. Third, when you use contractors or casual workers, the lack of a continued role and little autonomy is likely to impact their mental health and lead to higher depression symptoms. Finally, if you have women working all weekend, you need to provide additional support.

See our article, 3 Steps Towards a Mentally Healthy Workplace.

Training About Depression Symptoms

It is not uncommon for employees to have little understanding of depression symptoms or the signs of declining mental health. It is here that training plays a critical role. Employees need to learn how to recognise when their well-being is taking a hit. They need to have a kit bag of strategies and coping mechanisms that they can draw on to help them through these difficult times. Finally, when things become more of a challenge, they need to feel they can reach out for help and know where they can get support.

The Tap into Safety Mental Health Training increases mental health literacy on workplace stressors to teach effective coping strategies using animated storytelling. We have developed several out-of-the-box employee mental health modules with one focusing specifically on depressive thoughts. The training can be completed online, on tablets and mobile phones in under 10 minutes and draws on a MicroLearning methodology. Every training course offers suggestions on where employees can seek help.

If you would like to know more about our Mental Health Training, contact us today.

To Conclude

The study shows that women working extra-long hours and most or all weekends have the poorest mental health. Men who work fewer hours than they would like show increased signs. The findings should encourage employers to consider support aimed at reducing women’s burdens without restricting their participation in the workforce.

The results suggest that jobs that lack autonomy leads to workers with higher levels of depression symptoms.  Companies are moving to a higher casual workforce and contractors to save costs and provide labour as needed. However, these working arrangements do come with the added cost of workers with declining mental health.

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