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It’s Not the Workload Causing Your Depression. It’s the Boss.

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Bosses, apparently, are the worst. Study after study shows that supervisors are a cause of all kinds of problems. This includes workplace depression.

An article published in Science Nordic highlights key findings from the research:

Surprisingly, the study indicates that a heavy workload has no effect on whether or not employees become depressed. Instead, it is the work environment and the feeling of being treated unfairly by the management that has the greatest effect on an employee’s mood.

“We may have a tendency to associate depression and stress with work pressure and workload; however, our study shows that the workload actually has no effect on workplace depression,” says one of the researchers.

The report continues with a curious note about the connection between mood, mental health, and the context of work:

“When high levels of work pressure and depression appear to be linked in people’s consciousness, it is not because a heavy workload increases the risk of depression. Or that’s not what we found in our study. Instead, depression can make work assignments appear insurmountable, even though the depression was not caused by the workload.”

Boss oversees Employees

© Flickr user sustainablerural

This isn’t news, really. We already know about the bad boss syndrome. We already know that terrible supervisors measurably reduce work output by 10%. And we know that two-thirds of Americans would prefer a new boss instead of a pay raise.

So why do bosses cause workplace depression? There a four workload related reasons to consider right away:

Assigning Too Much Work

We’re all familiar with a team leader who has impossibly high expectations. It’s easy to do this: just take reasonable deadlines and timeframes, and make them unreasonable.

This is depressing for the worker because not only will they never be able to get things done on time, but because it illustrates their boss doesn’t really understand the work. If your supervisor is clueless, that’s a cause for frustration.

Not Assigning Enough Work

This might sound like paradise at first. But there are only so many rounds of computer solitaire (or Facebook discussions) you can get into before not-working gets boring. People do want to do something productive and challenging. Bosses should make sure there’s something to do.

The other downside of an undersized workload is that the employee begins to wonder if they are even needed. What’s the value of having someone in that chair if they aren’t doing anything? The worker may become fearful that they won’t have a job soon, leading to more depression.

Not Doing Enough Work Themselves

One of the worst kinds of bosses are those that dole out tasks and then never do anything themselves. They are at the golf course or chatting on the phone all day instead of digging in and helping out.

We resent these people because they are employees just like us that owe responses to customers, but just aren’t getting things done. And they sometimes try and make us feel bad. No wonder a lazy boss leads to workplace depression!

Doing Too Much Work Themselves

The boss who refuses to delegate because they are handling everything is the boss that shows a lack of trust in their own employees. An old saying goes, “if you want something done right, you have to do it yourself.” But that’s no way to build a culture of leadership and commitment.

These overworked bosses also make employees who go home at 5PM seem a little lazy. An always-busy boss can make their workers feel depressed by association, since those team members can’t seem to get as much done–even if they want to.

Depressed Man

© Flickr user trizoultro

There are, of course, lots of non-workload related reasons the boss could be the cause of depression. They might be acting like a bully. Or, they could be wildly incompetent. Or, they could be such a stickler for the rules that it drives everyone bonkers.

The point is that if you oversee employees, there’s a good chance they don’t like what you’re doing and it’s negatively impacting their productivity. And if you’ve got a boss whose causing you to be depressed, you’re not alone.

Get help. Talk to friends and colleagues. And if it’s time, dust off your best interview suit and look for something new.

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Robby Slaughter
Robby Slaughter is a workflow and productivity expert. He is a nationally known speaker on topics related to personal productivity, corporate efficiency and employee engagement. Robby is the founder of AccelaWork, a company which provides speakers and consultants to a wide variety of organizations, including Fortune 500 companies, regional non-profits, small businesses and individual entrepreneurs. Robby has written numerous articles for national magazines and has over one hundred published pieces. He is also the author of several books, including Failure: The Secret to Success. He has also been interviewed by international news outlets including the Wall Street Journal. Robby’s newest book is The Battle For Your Email Inbox.
Robby Slaughter


Troublemaker and productivity/workflow expert. Slightly more complex than 140 characters will permit.
@lorraineball First probably depends on the business. But second is likely training, especially with regard to sales. - 1 month ago
Robby Slaughter
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