By Anne Harding Anne Harding – Tue Apr 14, 12:24 pm ET
NEW YORK (Reuters Health) – Poor team spirit at the workplace may do more than drag down morale, it can make people depressed, according to the findings of a new study published in the journal Occupational and Environmental Medicine.
"As depressive disorders are a major cause of work disability and account for a considerable proportion of the disease burden, more attention should be paid to psychosocial factors at work," lead author Dr. Marjo Sinokki of the Finnish Institute of Occupational Health in Turku told Reuters Health via e-mail.
While investigators have studied how social support and autonomy on the job, as well as job security, affect people's mental and physical health, less is known about how team interaction influences health, Sinokki and her colleagues point out.
To investigate, they looked at "team climate," or the way that people feel about the quality of communication in their work environment, in a nationally representative sample of 3,347 Finnish workers 30 to 64 years old.
People were asked on a five-point scale ranging from "I fully agree" to "I fully disagree" about four possible descriptions for their workplace: "Encouraging and supportive of new ideas," "Prejudiced and conservative," "Nice and easy," and "Quarrelsome and disagreeing."
The World Health Organization (WHO) Composite International Diagnostic Interview was used to assess the subjects' mental health and criteria from the Diagnosis and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-IV) were used to diagnosis mental disorders.
The study participants were then divided into three groups based on their test results.
People with a poor work climate, who felt it was highly prejudiced and quarrelsome, were 61 percent more likely to be depressed, the researchers found. These workers were also at greater risk of anxiety. However, once the investigators accounted for how much control people had over their work and the nature of their job demands, this relationship disappeared.
This part of the study couldn't determine whether a bad work environment caused depression or whether depressed people perceived their workplace in a more negative way.
A second part of the study correlated team climate ratings with antidepressant use over the next 3 years. The researchers found subjects with the worst work environment were 53 percent more likely to purchase these drugs.
This provides evidence that a disagreeable work environment can cause depression, Sinokki noted, but she also said more research to examine depression and work environment over time is needed to clarify the relationship.
An unpleasant social environment at work could influence depression risk by increasing job stress, which could in turn affect factors like smoking, alcohol use, or exercise, the researcher noted.
SOURCE: Occupational and Environmental Medicine, published online April 9, 2009.