Women more likely to be depressed by working longer hours

Women working more than 55 hours every week are more likely to become depressed than those who work a standard, 40-hour week, a new study has found. We explore the research and what you can do as a manager to help female – and male – staff cope with the pressures of general practice

The findings, published in the Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health,  are the result of an ambitious project which, since 2015, has been tracking the lives of 40,000 families from across the country to get a glimpse into the stresses and strains of modern life.

In Understanding Society: the UK household longitudinal study, the authors lay bare the impact that overwork is having on the mental health of women. Women who work longer hours are 7.3% more likely to experience depression than those who work a standard week. The low-mood extended to their free time, with women more likely to experience negative feelings over the weekend than men. In contrast, men recorded no increase in stress and depression while working longer hours – although that doesn’t mean it’s not happening.

Women who work longer hours are 7.3% more likely to experience depression than those who work a standard week.

“Women, in general, are more likely to be depressed than men, and this was no different in the study,” lead author Gill Weston, a PhD student at University College London, told The Guardian. In the interview Weston was keen to point out that longer hours couldn’t, necessarily, be considered the cause, stressing that this is an observational study. However, she did add that the domestic burden can lead to “…extensive total work hours, added time pressures and overwhelming responsibilities.”

As GPs and practice staff are working longer hours than ever before the impact on morale, performance and mental health among both male and female employees could be dramatic.

How are you feeling today?

Those five short words could change everything, NHS Employers believes. It has developed a toolkit for managers to use to check on their own wellbeing and that of their colleagues too, using the short phrase as an opening for a detailed and frank chat about workplace pressures.

It’s much easier to notice when someone has a physical problem than a mental one – and easier to engage in conversation about it, too. In order to stimulate discussions within the health service NHS Employers has produced a new, online resource, in partnership, to help NHS staff to:

  1. help bridge a gap in understanding and enable us to talk openly and regularly about emotional health;
  2. assess the impact emotional wellbeing has on ourselves, our colleagues and on our patients;
  3. enable us to action plan to facilitate more good days than bad.

The resources have been designed to support practice managers (and other NHS professionals) to strike up conversations about emotional wellbeing and to help them to understand both the circumstances that may lead to negative feelings and the impact this may have on teams, colleagues and patients. The resource then goes on to explore some of the actions that can be taken to reduce stress – whether these are personal strategies or organisational changes.

One of the key resources is the Take positive steps together plan. This is a short form, in PDF format, that can be completed with an employee to identify some of the causes of stress, the current challenges in the identified area (or areas) and the positives to work from. Together, staff are encouraged to create an action plan to mitigate, where possible, the impact of workplace pressures. It’s one of a host of free materials that can be used to help improve communication with staff.

The NHS is a challenging and demanding place to work and sometimes employees – men and women – will be expected and required to work beyond their contracted hours. Resources like those produced by NHS Employers play an important part in supporting the role of a practice manager. When employees are experiencing stress at work you have a duty as an employer – both morally and legally – to offer support if you can.

This approach may not solve every problem, but bringing them into the open can allow an important and productive dialogue to begin.

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