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Part-time Employees More Likely to Be Depressed, Miss More Work 
Gallup poll suggests one remedy is a workplace that meets psychological needs  

8/7/2013  By Dana Wilkie 
 
 
Part-time workers in the U.S. are 54 percent more likely to report having been diagnosed with depression than their full-time counterparts, and those with a history of depression miss 57 percent more workdays than do full-time employees with the same background, according to a new Gallup poll.

The poll, which surveyed 303,625 working adults (237,615 full-timers and 66,010 part-timers), was part of the 2012 Gallup-Healthways Well-Being Index. It was conducted Jan. 2, 2011, through Dec. 30, 2012, and released July 24, 2013.

Researchers found that 16.6 percent of part-time employees reported having been diagnosed with depression at some point in their lives, compared with 10.8 percent of full-time workers. Part-timers with a history of depression missed an average of 13.7 workdays each year, compared with full-timers with the same history, who missed just 8.7 days.

“What surprised me the most was the part-time workers, who really have substantially higher levels of depression than their full-time counterparts,” observed Dan Witters, research director for the Gallup-Healthways Well-Being Index. “The gap in missed work time is much greater.”

The survey did not ask if respondents currently suffer from depression but instead asked, “Has a doctor or nurse ever told you that you are depressed?” It also didn’t ask if the missed workdays were because of depression, only whether employees had missed work because of “poor health.”

Other Gallup research, Witters said, indicates that “people who’ve experienced depression at some point in life, regardless of whether they’re currently being treated—these people are at higher risk of any number of other conditions, including missed workdays.”

Overall, the poll found that workers in the U.S. who, at some point, have been diagnosed with depression collectively miss an estimated 68 million additional workdays a year than their counterparts who have not been depressed—resulting in an estimated annual cost of more than $23 billion in lost productivity to U.S. employers.

The poll did not break out lost productivity costs for full- and part-time workers.

More than 1 in 10 full-time workers (10.8 percent) said they’d been diagnosed with depression, the survey found. Those who said this reported an average of 8.7 missed workdays a year. Full-time workers who’d never been diagnosed with depression missed an average of 4.6 work days a year. Part-timers who’d never suffered from depression missed an average of 8.7 days a year, while part-timers with a history of this condition lost 13.7 workdays. 

In 2013, so far, Gallup found an even higher percentage of all workers—12 percent—reporting they’ve been diagnosed with depression at some point. Full results for the year are pending.

Witters noted that the poll calculated only how much depression costs businesses in absenteeism.

“There’s lots of other costs we could put on top of that—like you’re at work but not productive, or there are accidents on the job, or there are workers’ compensation claims and health care costs and turnover that means replacement costs,” Witters said. “Those are all potential areas that would add on to that $23 billion.”

Witters described the phenomenon of depression among part-time workers as “reciprocal.”

“Depression keeps people in this part-time status more than they may wish they were,” he said. “The condition of depression will retard their employability and reduce the chances they can find full-time work.

“At the same time,” he continued, “if you’re only employed part time and barely getting by and wish you could have a full-time job but can’t find one, that’s going to cause you to be depressed.”

The survey cautioned that employers’ efforts to improve workers’ health and well-being—whether through generous health care benefits, gym subsidies, subsidized smoking-cessation programs or the like—“may be inadequate to address the mental, emotional and psychological health of others.”

“Tens of millions in the workforce … have either grappled with emotional-health issues in the past or do so today,” the survey’s researchers said in a statement.

Yet, Witters said organizations shouldn’t conclude that physical-wellness programs don’t help the depressed.

“It can be a smart intervention,” he said. “We know that active lifestyles and good physical health are good for mental health and can reduce the probability that someone will [develop] depression.”

Other benefits that might help, according to the survey, include subsidized mental-health counseling, early identification and treatment, employee assistance programs, and management education to address depression and its causes. Also worthwhile, the report said, are efforts to destigmatize depression and its treatment in the workplace.

Finally, the report stated that “one less obvious, but potentially fruitful, strategy for employers to help improve the mental well-being among some employees … is engaging them through the fulfillment of certain critical psychological needs in the workplace.”  

“Gallup has defined 12 specific psychological needs in the workplace, such as regular recognition, having mentors who encourage you, feeling your opinions count and being a good fit for your job,” Witters said. “We know that highly engaged employees who have these things happening a lot experience much higher levels of well-being than those who are disengaged. Simply by taking a stance that we’re going to engage our employees with a psychologically healthy workplace—that will reduce the chances that depression will occur.”

Dana Wilkie is an online editor/manager for SHRM.


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