A fair organisation can prevent depression

Arkivfoto (foto: Tonny Foghmar, Aarhus Universitetshospital).

Endless piles on the desk do not cause depression but an unfair boss and unclear work procedures can, new research from Aarhus, Denmark, shows.

You should think that a huge workload would cause depression but this is not necessarily the case. However, when the piles on the desk are accompanied by an unfair boss and unclear work procedures, things can go wrong.

This is the result of new research from Aarhus University Hospital, Aarhus University, Bispebjerg Hospital, Regional Hospital West Jutland and the National Research Centre for the Working Environment.

A total of 4,500 Danish public employees participated in a comprehensive study of the connection between the psychosocial work environment and depression. The study was conducted between 2007 and 2009 and consisted of both questionnaires, personal interviews, and biological saliva samples measuring the stress hormone cortisol among participants.

Justice is a determining factor
- We were surprised that justice at the work place plays such a decisive role in the development of depression, says Matias Brødsgaard Grynderup, PhD and psychologist at the Department of Occupational Medicine, Aarhus University Hospital.

- We studied the participants’ perception of the procedural justice – the way the organisation of the work place is perceived as just; We also studied the relational justice – if the supervisor is perceived as being just. The results showed that employees at work places with a low degree of justice had an increased risk of developing depression.

New methods gave more precise results
The research conducted by Matias Brødsgaard Grynderup and his colleagues stands out from similar international studies because the starting point has not been the individual employee’s perception of the work environment but the average perception among healthy employees in a department. In this way the results have not been biased by the fact that depressed employees, due to the depressive disorder, often have a negative perception of their work environment.
The researchers point out that their results cannot readily explain why the individual employee gets depressed as depression is a multifactorial disease with many and often unknown causes.

Many tasks and stress hormones are not dangerous
In addition to injustice at the work place the researchers also investigated if a huge work load or pressure was a risk factor for depression; This turned out not to be the case.

- Many previous studies have shown that a huge work load increased the risk of depression but we have not found this association. Thus, we cannot conclude that a reduced workload can be a means to prevent depression.

The researchers also did a biological test where they measured the level of the stress hormone cortisol in salivary samples from participants. Previous studies have shown that a high level of cortisol can lead to depression.

- But our results actually show the opposite – that a high level of the stress hormone cortisol prevents depression.

Depression can be prevented
According to Matias Brødsgaard Grynderup there should be more focus on management’s role.

- To put it simple, our research shows that it does not matter if you are busy at work – as long as you feel you are being treated in a just way by your supervisor.

- Our results point at new ways of preventing depression because a work environment perceived as unjust can be changed. By this I mean a management style where you clearly express a wish to treat your employees decently – combined with an organisation with clear and visible work procedures.

Further information:
Matias Brødsgaard Grynderup, Psychologist, PhD, Department of Occupational Medicine, Aarhus University Hospital , Tel.: +45 2028 7788 , E-mail: matigryn@rm.dk

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Hospitals located in central Jutland are part of Central Denmark Region.

The region is a public institution with three main tasks within welfare and regional development:
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