Do Long Work Hours Lead to Higher Depression?

longer working hours

We often hear how difficult it is as a working mother to juggle the demands of work and home due to the fact that women predominantly still do the majority of household chores and child-rearing.

A recent study conducted over 10 years in the UK on 11,215 working men and 12,188 working women investigated if longer working hours caused an increase in levels of depression.

The study revealed some interesting results. The media has grabbed on to the headline that women are more depressed when required to work longer hours. The results however show that the score difference between those who worked long hours and weekends and those who didn’t, although statistically significant, was small: at most around 1 point out of 36.

The study could not argue strongly that long working hours are to blame for the reported high levels of depression symptoms.  Nearly half of the women in the sample worked part-time, compared with just one in seven men. Perhaps this indicates women are making choices themselves and are mostly aware of their limits.

This study makes an interesting contribution to the literature on how working patterns affect mental health and lead to debilitation illnesses such as depression.

Depression is a precursor to suicidal thoughts.

Key Findings

The results showed that on average, men were more likely than women to have longer working hours and work weekends, and less likely to work part-time.

For men, depression symptoms were no different between those working 35-40 hours a week and those working 55 or more hours (both scoring 10.1 out of 36). This is an interesting result and pours water on the argument for shorter working hours to improve mental wellbeing.

However, the study did not link longer working hours to the number of relationship breakups and divorce levels that have seen an increase in the past decade.

The researchers also found that married women with children at home tended to be less likely to work long hours than single women – and married fathers were more likely to put in overtime at the office than men with no family.

Women working 55 or more hours had marginally more (7.3%) depression symptoms, such as feeling worthless or incapable, than women working standard 35-40 hours.

The research suspects the gender difference is down to the fact that even when women have left work, they are left with the burden of chores around the home. However, there are likely to be other personal, health and lifestyle circumstances that impact their mental health.

Weekend working was linked to a higher risk of depression among both men and women. Women who worked for all or most of the weekend had 4.6% more depressive symptoms on average than women working only weekdays.

Men tended to work longer hours than women, with almost half clocking up more than 40 hours a week, compared with fewer than one in four women.

The difference for men was not significant (3.4% more depressive symptoms for men working weekends), but when job satisfaction was taken into account, men working weekends reported higher levels of depression symptoms.

See our course, Depressive Thoughts and Alcohol Use.

What the Researchers Have to Say

Lead author Gill Weston, of University College London, said the findings called for greater support for women with longer working hours in the workplace.

‘Although we cannot establish the exact causes, we do know many women face the additional burden of doing a larger share of domestic labour than men, leading to extensive total work hours, added time pressures and overwhelming responsibilities,’ she said.

‘We hope our findings will encourage employers and policy-makers to think about how to reduce the burdens and increase support for women who work long or irregular hours – without restricting their ability to work when they wish to.

‘More sympathetic working practices could bring benefits both for workers and for employers – of both sexes’.

The researchers wrote: ‘Our findings of more depressive symptoms among women working extra-long hours might also be explained by the potential double burden experienced by women when their long hours in paid work are added on their time in domestic labour. We also do not know how much difference this would make to a person’s daily life, wellbeing and functioning’.

‘Previous studies have found that once unpaid housework and caring is accounted for, women work longer than men, on average, and that this has been linked to poorer physical health’.

‘Our findings should encourage employers and policy-makers to consider interventions aimed at reducing women’s burdens without restricting their full participation in the workforce, and at improving psycho-social work conditions’.

Read our article, Managing Work-Related Psychological Health.

What’s the Current Mental Health of Australian Workplaces?

  • 20% of Australian employees report that they have taken time off work due to feeling mentally unwell in the past 12 months.
  • Mental health rehabilitation costs to Australian workplaces is substantial, at approximately $11.8 billion per year.
  • Every dollar spent on effective workplace mental health initiatives can generate $2.30 of benefits to the organisation.

Read our article, Do You Know Your Psychological Safety Climate Benchmark?

How Can You Measure Your Employees Level of Depression?

There is a need for early intervention mental health tools that encourage people to build their capacity to manage the stress, pressures and changes in everyday life. Businesses must also be equipped with insights into their staff’s ongoing mental health state so that they can effectively direct mental health support to people who need it.

Tap into Safety offers mental health training that draws on animated scenarios to provide a convenient, engaging and secure way to tackle mental health topics in the workplace. The courses teach valuable coping strategies and direct where to seek help when things get too tough.

The Tap into Safety mental health courses can easily fit into your existing workplace training. All courses are

  • engaging, interactive and have modular content that is informed by world-class leading expertise
  • easily accessible online and via mobile devices
  • developed with custom animations and scenarios of pertinent issues
  • safe and secure.

If you are interested in finding out more about the Tap into Safety mental health training, contact us for a free demonstration or with any questions.

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