Workplace Stress, Depression Common Says Study

A survey looks at why depression, anxiety and stress in the workplace can disable employees and lead to lost productivity.

One in 10 office workers in Britain, the United States, Germany, Finland and Poland suffers from depression, anxiety, stress or burnout, according to an International Labor Organization (ILO) survey.

Information glut resulting from technological advances, dysfunctional office politics, job insecurity and downsizing are the main contributors to workplace stress, the survey found.

Depression in the workplace is now the second most disabling illness for workers after heart disease, said the study released yesterday in conjunction with World Mental Health Day.

Mental, neurological and behavioral disorders are rising so fast that they will outrank road accidents, AIDS and violence by 2020 as a primary cause of work years lost from early death and disability if nothing is done, said a report released at a conference on despair at the workplace.

In pure business terms, despair costs companies more than plant shutdowns or strikes, said the ILO. "These trends represent a wake-up call for business," it said.

Bad management cost companies not only in loss of productivity from a less healthy and motivated workforce but also through higher staff turnover with the associated costs of recruitment and training replacement staff, said the ILO report.

Depression costs the United States $44 billion each year in direct costs for treatment of illness, lost earnings and lower productivity at the workplace and it costs four percent of the European Union''s Gross National Product, according to the survey.

The survey results also reveled the following statistics:

  • In the United States, clinical depression has become one of the most common illnesses, affecting one in 10 working age adults at a cost of 200 million working days lost each year.
  • One in five American families is affected by severe mental illness and some 80 million people in the United States are estimated to have a psychiatric impairment.
  • Mental health disorders are the leading cause of disability pensions in Finland, where over 50 percent of the workforce has some kind of stress-related symptom and seven percent suffer from severe burnout.
  • In Germany, depressive disorders accounted for almost seven percent of premature retirements while depression-related work incapacity lasts two and a half times longer than incapacity due to other illnesses.

by Virginia Sutcliffe

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