Meaningless work causes depression

Johann Hari, an author of a book “Lost Connections: Uncovering the Real Causes of Depression – and the Unexpected Solutions”, went on a quest to find out hard answers to hard questions about depression. Hari interviewed social scientists all over the world from Sydney to São Paulo, and found one core reason for an epidemic-like depression:

Depressing work.

Humans have physical needs for food, water, shelter and clean air. But, humans also have psychological needs – the strongest one of these needs is the need to be valued. We need to feel we belong. We need to feel that we are good at something and that we are making a difference. As the majority of people spend most of their time at work, these psychological needs should be met at work.

But they are not met.

Gallup consulted employees in its survey during years 2011 – 2012. The results were sad to read; only 13% of people were engaged in their work. 63% of people were not engaged. And 24% of them were actively disengaging with their work.

In other words, 13% found their work meaningful and pleasing. 63% disliked their work and acted it through like a robot. 24% simply hated their jobs.

Roughly 87% of employees had a negative experience of their work. They didn’t find their jobs meaningful. They didn’t feel valued or belonged.

Gallup isn’t the only source reporting equivalent results. O.C Tanner Institute interviewed 2 500 employees in 2015. The survey covered Canada, Great Britain, Australia and Germany. Only one question was asked;

Are you appreciated in your workplace?

In places where the employees were appreciated, 85% of employees were happy about their life in general and 89% were happy with their work. Also, 78% of them told they had a sense of belonging at their work.

However, in the places where the employees weren’t appreciated, 61% of the employees were happy about their life in general and only 51% were happy with their work. What’s the most alarming is that only 35% said they had a sense of belonging.

The curve of negative feelings leading to profound depression between appreciated VS not appreciated was a whooping 43% at max!

In a world, which promotes workforce engaging – at least on a paper – this neglect towards workforce’s happiness is very alarming. Disengaged employees don’t just cause problems to society as increased healthcare expenses (such as sick leaves) but also to companies. Losses from disengaged, unhappy employees are counted in billions each year. In Finland, a country of 5 million inhabitants, losses of disengaged workforce are 25 billion Euros annually.

Just like Hari had found out during his own quest, the need of being valued and having a sense of belonging are extremely important to people. Without them, a person is in danger to slide into depression – and, when the majority of an average person’s waking life is spent at work, the work itself should answer to these profound and primal needs.

The easiest way to increase the sense of belonging and value at work is to let the employees have autonomy over their work. This can be done in multiple ways; let them decide where they want to work and how they want to work as long as the deadlines are met with a quality results. Provide them with remote work options, different working environments and also with the possibility to decide their own vacations, or for example call in for a sick leave when they are ill without any extra hassle. The more freedom the employees are given, the more it promotes trust and sense of “I’ve got this!” Many studies have also shown that unlike employers’ suspect, the employees won’t violate the given freedom. Quite the opposite: When employees feel valued, appreciated and needed they are more engaged. And the more engaged they are, the less they want to do any “bad stuff” – they rather keep the earned trust. They contribute to better results for a greater good of the company, and will be more flexible than the employees who are treated like nothing.

Tell the employees when they have done a good job and appreciate their good qualities. It can be as simple as saying “Thank you for handling this email quickly” or “You were great with the customer yesterday” or “You are so good at doing this thing X!” Nothing promotes a sense of belonging and being valued more than hearing small positive and supportive things from the superiors, bosses and co-workers.

Curing and preventing depression can sometimes be this easy.

Maarit Hyvärinen
Content and illustrations #SuperAssistant at Wannado

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