Any job can be a downer on a given day, but now a study has shown that when people work very long hours, their jobs can actually make them depressed—like clinically depressed, not just "my boss is annoying" depressed. That's extremely scary news, seeing as so many of us are glued to our desks, slaving away until we die in our cubicles and no one notices. It's weird that anyone would find that depressing, right?
The study, which tracked British civil servants for six years, had some pretty startling results:
[W]orkers who put in an average of at least 11 hours per day at the office had roughly two and a half times higher odds of developing depression than their colleagues who clocked out after seven or eight hours.
This held true even after they accounted for other factors such as job strain, workplace support, drinking, smoking, and diseases. The biggest effect was seen in junior and mid-level workers, who tended to be overworked and were much more prone to being depressed. That's not at all shocking since just the thought of working overtime at a thankless entry level job is enough to demoralize most people. Of course the executives at the top of the corporate ladder fared much better. The length of their workday didn't effect their mental health to any significant degree. Must be nice up there.
Researchers think the difference is explained by the fact that people at the top have so much more control over their own work. As for the unluckly souls in the lower ranks, the researchers surmise that depression arose because the excessive time spent at work created relationship difficulties at home or raised people's levels of cortisol, a stress hormone. Add to that people worrying for their jobs and not getting enough sleep—which may be crucial, since other research has shown sleeping badly often causes work-related depression. One thing the study doesn't seem to have addressed is that if you're working 11 hours a day, you're probably not spending very much time outside in the sun, or even moving around much at all, and that can turn you into a joyless zombie pretty darn quick.
But before you go quit your job and run off to live in Bali—hey, if Elizabeth Gilbert can do it, so can you!—the study does have some holes in it. One is that only British white-collar civil servants were included. So, these results might not apply to you if you, say, work in a federal prison in Texas or are an unpaid intern at a shitty PR firm in Manhattan. Of course, the chances are good if you're working like crazy anywhere in America you're just as likely to be as depressed—if not more so, because your benefits probably aren't as good as a British civil servant's.
The study also didn't pinpoint how long you can keep working 11-hour days before you have a complete breakdown. It could take a few months, or just a few weeks to get depressed. Nobody knows. So basically every day you stay late at work, is a day you could be putting your mental health at risk. The obvious solution? Just tell your boss that you have to leave right at five. (Unless of course you are the boss in which case don't sweat it; you probably left to go play tennis at 3 p.m. anyway.) He or she will probably be cool about it, because if there's one thing about corporate America, it's that it really cares deeply about the health and well-being of its employees and will do whatever it takes to keep them happy—as long as it doesn't involve them leaving their desks.
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