Published today in The Lancet Psychiatry and led by the Black Dog Institute, the study found that if workplaces were to reduce job strain, up to 14 per cent of new cases of common mental illness could be prevented.
Researchers defined job strain as a combination of high work pace, intensity and conflicting demands, combined with low control or decision-making capacity.
“Mental illness is the leading cause of sickness absence and long-term work incapacity in Australia, equating to $11-billion lost to Australian businesses each year,” says lead author and Associate Professor Samuel Harvey from the Black Dog Institute.
“Our modelling used detailed data collected over 50 years to examine the various ways in which particular work conditions may impact an employee’s mental health.”
The Black Dog Institute hopes that the study’s findings serve as a wake-up call for employers.
“It’s important to remember that for most people, being in work is a good thing for their mental health,” Assoc. Prof. Harvey explains. “But this research provides strong evidence that organisations can improve employee wellbeing by modifying their workplaces to make them more mentally healthy.”
To determine levels of job strain, 45-year-old participants completed questionnaires testing for factors including decision authority, skill discretion (the opportunity to use skills during work) and questions about job pace, intensity and conflicting demands.
At age 50, participants completed the Malaise Inventory questionnaire, a psychological scale used in health surveys to indicate symptoms of common mental illness.
The final modelling suggested that those experiencing higher job demands, lower job control and higher job strain were at greater odds of developing mental illness by age 50.