Overtime Work Can Lead to Anxiety and Depression

Overtime work habits can lead to anxiety and depression, according to a study conducted by Norweigan researchers.

Using a standard screening questionnaire to measure symptoms of anxiety and depression, Elisabeth Kleppa and colleagues at the University of Bergen, Norway, analyzed data on hours worked by a large sample of Norwegian men and women. Scores for anxiety and depression were compared for 1,350 workers putting in 41 to 100 hours of overtime a week, and some 9,000 workers working regular hours (40 or less) without overtime.

Overtime work was linked to higher anxiety and depression scores among both men and women, while “possible” depression rose from about 9% for men working regular hours to 12.5% for those working overtime. “Possible” depression rates in women rose from 7% to 11% and for men and women the “possible” anxiety and depression rates were higher among workers with lower incomes and for less—skilled workers.

The relationship between overtime and anxiety/depression was strongest among men who worked the most overtime—49 to 100 hours per week. Men working such very long hours also had higher rates of heavy manual labor and shift work and lower levels of work skills and education.

Health and safety concerns have been raised in previous studies, but these concentrated on shift work rather than overtime. European Union work rules allow employees to refuse to work more than 48 hours per week. These latest results show increased rates of anxiety and depression among overtime workers, supporting the European Union directive.

Even moderate overtime hours appear to increase the risk of ‘mental distress’, although the study offers no conclusions as to how working long hours results in increased anxiety and depression. It is surmised that working overtime leads to increased “wear and tear,” or that individuals with characteristics predisposing to anxiety and depression (such as low education and job skills) are more likely to take jobs requiring long work hours.

Source: Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine, official publication of the American College of Occupational and Environmental Medicine (ACOEM), June, 2008.

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