THURSDAY, April 9, 2009 (HealthDay News) -- A stressful work environment brought on by lack of team spirit increases worker depression and the odds that employees will turn to antidepressants for relief, a new study finds.
Given the current recession, the workplace has become even more stressful with people afraid of losing their jobs and uncertain about their economic future, one expert says.
"The U.S. work environment right now is far more tenuous and toxic than in recent history," said Josh Klapow, an associate professor of health-care organization and policy at the University of Alabama at Birmingham, who had no role in the study. "With layoffs and downsizing, the opportunities for increased stress, negativity and pressure have all greatly increased."
But even in the best of times, the study found, workplace environment can take a psychological toll on workers.
"Depression is common in working populations and is associated with substantial work disability in terms of sick leave and disability pensions," said Marjo Sinokki, from the Finnish Institute of Occupational Health in Turku, Finland, and the study's lead researcher. "It is important to promote well-being at work in every way and pay attention also to team climate."
The report was published online April 8 in Occupational and Environmental Medicine.
For the study, Sinokki's team collected data on 3,347 Finnish workers, ages 30 to 64. They asked about people's workplace environment -- specifically about team spirit and the quality of communication and about how they felt about the demands of their jobs.
Participants were asked to rate their workplace according to four descriptive phrases: "encouraging and supportive of new ideas," "prejudiced and conservative," "nice and easy" and "quarrelsome and disagreeing." They also were asked about their home and social lives.
Although the perception that the workplace was prejudiced or quarrelsome was not associated with alcohol abuse or anxiety, lack of team spirit was.
In fact, those who thought team spirit was poor were about 60 percent more likely to report being depressed and 50 percent more likely to take antidepressants than those who rated it high.
Though the study was done in Finland, the researchers think that their findings apply to workers around the world.
"More attention should be paid to psychosocial factors at work," Sinokki said. "I think team climate is an important factor at work all over the place, and I think the results would be similar in the U.S."
Klapow said that because most people spend the majority of their day at work, the contribution of the work environment to their overall psychological well-being is substantial.
"Individuals who are feeling nervous, anxious, sad, irritable at work and find it interfering with their ability to get the job done should look at those symptoms as possible warning signs of a more serious but treatable psychological condition," Klapow said. "Unattended, those symptoms can go on to become very debilitating disorders."
Dr. Carole Lieberman, a clinical professor of psychology and stress expert at the University of California, Los Angeles, took issue with some aspects of the study.
"Although I agree with their conclusion, that poor team climate or office stress is associated with depression, there are problems with this study," she said. "The study does not clarify to what degree office stress causes depression, versus to what degree depression causes office stress."
In addition, the study started in 2000 and had a follow-up period that included the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, 2001, which would have changed the course of the results, Lieberman said.
"Workers in Finland would have been impacted by the 9/11 terrorist attack that targeted workers in the U.S.," she said. "It is likely that any rise in depression, anxiety and alcoholism in the Finnish workers would be due, at least in part, to 9/11. And the team climate or office stress is likely to have been affected as well. There may have been more office stress or they may have been more supportive of each other than they were before."
The American Academy of Family Physicians has more on managing stress.