Emily Rosado-Solomon is an Assistant Professor of Management at Babson College. She received her PhD at Rutgers University School of Management and Labor Relations, and previously served on the faculty at California State University, Long Beach. Her research is broadly in the areas of organizational behavior and human resource management, with an emphasis on mental illness, diversity, and interpersonal connections at work.
Mental Health and Work
Many employees experience mental health challenges at work, including burnout and symptoms of anxiety or depression. While some of these challenges are caused by non-work factors, our review of over 500 studies suggests that work can play a unique role in degrading employees’ mental health. In particular, there are two systematic elements of work that can cause or exacerbate mental health challenges: the way jobs are designed, and the culture of the organization.
With respect to job design, employees are likely to have worse mental health when they are unsure about their work responsibilities or are regularly expected to perform more tasks than they can complete. Jobs that frequently impede employees’ ability to balance work and non-work responsibilities are also detrimental. Finally, research demonstrates that mental health challenges are associated with jobs in which employees have low autonomy, or lack ability to make decisions about their work.
With respect to organizational culture, employees who endure bullying at work or who have abusive supervisors are more likely to have mental health challenges than employees who don’t have those aversive experiences. Employees who lack social support at work also have worse outcomes than those with supportive coworkers or supervisors.
The effects of job design and organizational culture are systematic, and solving these problems proactively can benefit all employees. Yet our review suggests that researchers disproportionately investigate individual-level interventions, such as providing one-on-one counseling through Employee Assistance Programs or the efficacy of individual mindfulness practices. These interventions are important for employees who need additional support, but they do not solve the potentially detrimental impact of work on mental health. Rather, a large-scale improvement of employees’ mental health must systematically address the root issues of suboptimal job design and organizational culture, which can help companies prevent mental health challenges before they arise.