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January 27, 2012

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Depression linked to excessive overtime

Regularly working long hours compared with a routine of seven or eight hours can more than double the risk of depression, a major study has found.

Follow-up research to the Whitehall II study, which began in the 1980s, examined the link between overtime work and the onset of a major depressive episode (MDE) in a sample of British civil servants who had no previous psychological risk factors or MDEs.

Researchers found that those who worked 11 hours, or more a day were 2.3 to 2.5 times more likely to suffer an MDE. The association was the same even after a range of socio-demographic, life-style and work-related factors were taken into account.

The overall rate of depression at follow-up was 3.1 per cent – a lower figure than has been recorded by other studies of depression across general populations. The researchers suggest this might be because their study only considered participants who were free of psychological distress at the start of the five-year follow-up period.

The researchers point out that some positive work characteristics, such as high control or high rewards at work, may “buffer an employee against the adverse health effects of long working hours”. On the other hand, they suggest, “working long hours may also mean higher exposure to adverse working conditions”.

The authors concluded that large-scale population-based studies are needed to find out if the association between long hours and depression holds up in other contexts outside of the civil service. They also recommended further work to examine whether interventions designed to reduce working hours would alter depression risk in working populations.

The study, ‘Overtime work as a predictor of major depressive episode: A follow-up of the Whitehall II study’, was led by Marianna Virtanen of the Finnish Institute of Occupational Health. It can be found in the online journal PLoS ONE at

What makes us susceptible to burnout?

In this episode  of the Safety & Health Podcast, ‘Burnout, stress and being human’, Heather Beach is joined by Stacy Thomson to discuss burnout, perfectionism and how to deal with burnout as an individual, as management and as an organisation.

We provide an insight on how to tackle burnout and why mental health is such a taboo subject, particularly in the workplace.


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