A wide survey of New Zealand workplaces by researchers from Massey University’s Healthy Work Group has found more than one-quarter of employees feel depressed much of the time and half of workers say their lives are impacted to some extent by depression. 

Called the New Zealand Workplace Barometer, the study surveyed more than 1400 participants about the prevalence, nature and impacts of psycho-social risks in their workplaces.

Researcher Associate Professor Bevan Catley, who was one of the panelists at Health Central’s ChalkTalks discussion on wellbeing in the workplace, says the findings will form baseline data for ongoing monitoring. 

It’s important we acknowledge the prevalence of mental health issues, including depression, in New Zealand workplaces,” Dr Catley says. “Over half our respondents reported signs of depression that made it difficult to do their job, take care of things at home or get along with other people. 

“Worryingly, just over 7 per cent said these problems made their lives ‘very’ or ‘extremely’ difficult. While there is a huge personal toll, the costs to organisations can also be considerable.” 

Respondents in the highest quartile for psychological distress reported a lost time rate of 3.5 times greater than those in the lowest quartile. 

“Lost time is an obvious direct cost to organisations,” Dr Catley says,but there’s also many many indirect costs that are harder to calculate, including retention issues and the cost of recruitment and low engagement leading to low productivity.” 

The Workplace Barometer analysed the psycho-social safety climate of participating organisations. This measure of how well an organisation manages the psychological wellbeing of its employees proved to be a good predictor of stress-related illness amongst staff. 

This report shows we are able to predict mental health outcomes from organisational factors, including management attitude to psycho-social wellbeing,” Dr Catley says. “This means there is an important workplace component to improving employee mental health, and organisational changes can have a positive impact on many people. 

Stress comes from technology problems, workload pressures resulting from poor planning, unnecessary deadlines and a lack of leadership, Dr Catley says. Meanwhile, policies and procedures that create an environment of inclusion and give employees an appropriate amount of autonomy can have positive effects on wellbeing.  

“Fundamentally, top management has to actually buy into the importance of improving the psycho-social safety climate of their organisations. Staff need to be able to make recommendations for changes to reduce work-related stress, and those recommendations need to be taken seriously.” 

The study has funding in place for the next three years. 

Other Workplace Barometer findings: 

  • The prevalence of workplace bullying remains high, with more than 12 per cent of respondents targeted with at least two negative behaviours weekly over the past six months.  
  • Nearly one-quarter of respondents had witnessed the bullying of others. 
  • 37 per cent of those who had experienced bullying reported that it had continued for more than a year. 
  • The prevalence of sexual harassment was relatively low at approximately 3 per cent, although higher rates were experienced by women, at 4 per cent. 
  • Sleep disturbance was the most prevalent symptom of depression, at 64 per cent. 
  • Working remotely at least one day per week results in better wellbeing outcomes. 



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