Workplace depression - it's catching

December 2, 2014, Massey University

Professor Jarrod Haar, from Massey University's School of Management, says the research is the first to explore the emotional crossover process in the workplace.

"You can see how it happens. You're my boss and you come to work and you're low energy and not very interested – that kind of depresses me as somebody working under you," Professor Haar says.

"A simple interpretation would be 'the leader sneezes and the follower catches a cold' – and that's actually a pretty good analogy for how work-related depression spreads in the workplace."

Professor Haar found that 10 per cent of leaders said their job made them feel depressed "much or most of the time". He is quick to point out that this is a self-reported mental state and not depression in the clinical sense.

The same rate of self-reported depression – 10 per cent – was found amongst those working under the team leaders interviewed in the first phase of the study. But the interesting thing was the direct correlation between the depression levels of managers and the teams that they managed.

"We asked employees to rate the effectiveness of their managers and found that those leaders who said they suffered from depression were not rated well by their staff," Professor Haar says.

"We then asked the employees to rate their own levels of depression and this is where the contagion concept comes into play. You find leaders who are depressed have followers who are depressed."

Professor Haar says his research highlights the importance of workplace wellbeing, especially of team leaders.

"Leaders suffering from depression aren't as effective, which is bad, but then their depression and poor performance contributes to the depression of their team members.

"It's a downward spiral that organisations need to be aware of – stressed, unhappy managers are going to affect your bottom line negatively."

The study found that self-aware leaders were able to at least partially mitigate the impact of their mental state on their teams.

"These are the people who can see they are in a rut and do something about it. They understand their staff members still need their attention and energy and what effect they will have on their teams if they constantly appear negative and disinterested," Professor Haar says.

He says that while resliience is a highly sought-after trait when recruiting managers, self-awareness could actually be more desirable

"A level of resilience is important but you also have to look at the organisation itself. If your workplace causes high levels of stress and , should you try and recruit people who are resilient enough to survive there, or should you change the organisational culture?

"Organsiations can provide services to help employees – simple things like allowing the ocassional mental health day can actually make a difference. If you can get a team leader over a short-term blip through extra support, the productivity of the whole team will then go up."

Explore further: New survey of US workers reveals two in five survey participants missed work due to depression

Related Stories

New survey of US workers reveals two in five survey participants missed work due to depression

November 12, 2014
Nearly a quarter (23 percent) of U.S. respondents indicated they have been diagnosed with depression in their lifetime and two in five (nearly 40 percent) of those patients reported taking time off of work - an average of ...

Depression costs European businesses $130 billion

March 13, 2014
(Medical Xpress)—Employers need to take a more proactive approach to employees with depression in the wake of figures showing the illness now costs European workplaces an estimated £77 ($130) billion a year.

Singles need work / life balance too

August 2, 2013
(Medical Xpress)—If you think balancing work and family demands is one of the central challenges of modern life, you might be surprised to learn that parents score better than their childless counterparts on the work/life ...

Job authority increases depression symptoms in women, decreases them in men

November 20, 2014
A new study finds that having job authority increases symptoms of depression among women, but decreases them among men.

Working during depression can offer health benefits to employees

September 10, 2014
(Medical Xpress)—Attending work while suffering a depressive illness could help employees better manage their depression more than taking a sickness absence from work, a new study has found.

Home health nurses integrated depression care management but limited benefit

November 10, 2014
Medicare home health care nurses effectively integrated a depression care management program into routine practice but the benefit appeared limited to patients with moderate to severe depression, according to a report published ...

Recommended for you

Prediction of psychotic onset with AI language analysis

January 24, 2018
Psychiatrists characterize schizophrenia, a mental condition with devastating effects on those who suffer it, by a set of intuitively understandable concepts including "poverty of speech" and "flight of ideas." These concepts, ...

Hospice patients define the changing nature of wisdom in their final days

January 24, 2018
Wisdom is typically considered to be the fruit of a long life, the accumulation of experiences lived and lessons learned. In recent years, scientists have created a consensus definition of wisdom as a complex trait with several ...

Short-course treatment for combat-related PTSD offers expedited path to recovery

January 23, 2018
Symptoms of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) can be debilitating and standard treatment can take months, often leaving those affected unable to work or care for their families. But, a new study demonstrated that many ...

Social and emotional skills linked to better student learning

January 23, 2018
Students with well-developed and adaptive social and emotional behaviours are most likely to excel in school, according to UNSW researchers in educational psychology.

Priming can negate stressful aspects of negative sporting environments, study finds

January 23, 2018
The scene is ubiquitous in sports: A coach yells at players, creating an environment where winning is the sole focus and mistakes are punished. New research from the University of Kansas shows that when participants find ...

Study of learning and memory problems in OCD helps young people unlock potential at school

January 22, 2018
Adolescents with obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) have widespread learning and memory problems, according to research published today. The findings have already been used to assist adolescents with OCD obtain the help ...


Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.