Notes on Parenting

Insights for parenting babies, toddlers, teens, and young adults.

Monday, April 23, 2012

Working mother’s stress: Is work causing you to have depression?

Sometimes workplace stress and depression symptoms can take on the mindset of “which came first, the chicken or the egg?”  Has workplace stress caused your depressive symptoms, or have depressive symptoms caused you to have stress in the workplace?  There can be a fine line between cause and effect for working mothers of younger children.
Previous research has concluded that workplace stressors such as high levels of pressure, lack of flexibility, and low complexity and control over work can be linked to employee’s having depressive symptoms (Barnett & Brennan, 1995; Paterniti, Niedhammer, Lang, & Consoli, 2002).  Individuals having lower incomes in rural communities have fewer job opportunities with a higher wage or quality of work (Gibbs, Kusmin, & Cromartie, 2005).  Mothers with infants and young children have an increased risk for experiencing depressive symptoms when they are employed in lower wage and quality jobs.  This increased risk is a due to interference with their ability to balance work and family responsibilities.
A recent study has attempted to gain insight of those limitations by examining associations of depressive symptoms and work place stress including: nonflexible work schedules, work pressure, and low self-direction in mothers of young children.  The study examined the degree of association between work stressors and depressive symptoms by perceived negative work-family spillover.  Differences in part-time and full-time working mothers were examined for the potential effects of exposure to work stress (Goodman, Crouter, & The Family Life Project Key Investigators, 2009).
The following workplace stressors have been associated with higher levels of depressive symptoms over time:
  • Nonflexible Work Schedules –
    • Workplace policies 
    • Difficulty balancing work and family, especially mothers with young children
  • Work Pressure –
    • Frequent deadlines
    • Insufficient time to complete tasks
    • Excessive work load
  • Low Self-Direction –
    • Low levels of control over work flow
    • Low complexity and challenge
    • Low levels of self-direction
Workplace stress spilling over into family has a negative impact on the worker’s ability to meet personal and family needs.  Over time, this will result in declines in psychological well-being, including depressive symptoms (Goodman, Crouter, & The Family Life Project Key Investigators, 2009).  As mothers of young children have increased family responsibilities, they are more likely to experience the potential for workplace spillover leading to depressive symptoms. 
Shorter working periods have a reduced, and in some cases, eliminated the effects of experiencing workplace stress.  This is likely due to worker’s having greater ability to balance work and family.  Some mothers choose to work part-time jobs to have flexibility and balance work and family life.
So how does experiencing workplace stress cause depressive symptoms? 
  • Increased job distress predicts higher depressive symptoms – feeling a lack of control over the workplace spillover and its effects on the short-term and long-term ability to attend to family needs can lead to internal conflict resulting in depressive symptoms.
  • Workplace stress shapes perceptions of life quality at work and with family, which predicts lower levels of well-being – workers employed full-time typically spend more waking hours at work than with family.  If work is a source of stress, demands of employment can be viewed as the direct cause of depressive symptoms rather than the effect because of them.
How can mothers of young children reduce their likelihood for workplace stress and reduce depressive symptoms?
  • Obtain a job that has a flexible schedule that allows increased ability to balance work and family. 
    • A mother who does not have to choose between attending a family function or losing wages and risking disciplinary action or dismissal from employment will function better in both roles of worker and mother.
  • Obtain a job that has a more manageable work load to prevent and reduce work spillover. 
    • Mothers of young children already feel that parenting can be a never-ending job.  Having a work load that is perceived similarly will likely lead to feeling overwhelmed which can lead to depressive symptoms.
  • Obtain a job that has more appropriate levels of challenge to suit your needs. 
    • Mothers of young children often welcome a break from the responsibilities of caring for their young children.  However, if the work is too challenging it increases the likelihood of workplace stress which can lead to depressive symptoms.
Mothers of young children have to assess their unique family needs when determining what specific employment positions would have decreased workplace stress.  Having a positive balance between work and family will significantly reduce or eliminate the potential for experiencing depressive symptoms.     
Barnett, R. C., & Brennan, R. T. (1995). The relationship between job experiences and psychological distress: A structural equation approach. Journal of Organizational Behavior, 16, 259-276.
Gibbs, R., Kusmin, L., & Cromartie, J. (2005). Low skill employment and the changing economy of rural America. Washington, DC: US Government Printing Office.
Goodman, W. B., Crouter, A. C., & The Family Life Project Key Investigators (2009). Longitudinal associations between maternal work stress, negative work-family spillover, and depressive symptoms. Family Relations Interdisciplinary Journal of Applied Family Studies, 58, 245-258.
Paterniti, S., Niedhammer, I., Lang, T., & Consoli, S. M. (2002). Psychological factors at work, personality traits, and depressive symptoms: Longitudinal results from the GAZEL study. British Journal of Psychiatry, 181, 111-117.
Image: David Castillo Dominici /

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