Does Depression Cause Job Burnout, or Vice Versa?

Anyone who has experienced job burnout may also have suffered with symptoms of depression. And those who struggle with depression may find that their symptoms result in significant burnout on the job. Until now, little research has examined how these two constructs relate to each other, and more specifically, if they are interchangeable as predictors and outcomes of one another. Conservation of Resources (COR) theory is based on the presence of downward spirals, a situation that arises when an individual has a deficiency of resources in one area, which leads to the exhaustion of resources in other areas. COR theory provides an excellent foundation for examining the influence of each of these constructs on each other because depression could cause a person to be sapped of energy, thus leading to accelerated job burnout. Likewise, being overburdened at work could cause a person’s abilities to be overtaxed, leading to physical and mental exhaustion, which could accelerate symptoms of depression.

Understanding exactly how these two factors affect each other, and how physical activity (PA) could act as a buffer against both burnout and depression, could provide significant benefits to both business and medical professionals. The positive ramifications of PA on depression have been well documented, but a recent study led by Sharon Toker, of the Faculty of Management at Tel Aviv University in Israel, is among the first to look at how PA can prevent depression from leading to burnout and vice versa. Toker and her colleagues evaluated over 1,500 employees three separate times over 3½ years. They found that not only did PA decrease risk for depression and burnout, but employees who had the highest levels of PA had virtually no signs of either burnout or depression on the job. This could be attributed to increased sense of mastery from PA, distraction from depressive symptoms, or overall physical and psychological recovery achieved by even minimal PA. Toker suggests that businesses could increase productivity and reduce burnout by offering health club memberships or gym facilities to their employees. Toker said, “Moreover, in designing intervention programs, employers should acknowledge the benefits of PA as an important means of preventing the buildup of work-related or general distress.” The results of her study also emphasize the benefits of PA outside of the workplace for those suffering with depression or general stress-related burnout.

Toker, S., & Biron, M. (2012, January 9). Job Burnout and Depression: Unraveling Their Temporal Relationship and Considering the Role of Physical Activity. Journal of Applied Psychology. Advance online publication. doi: 10.1037/a0026914

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The preceding article was solely written by the author named above. Any views and opinions expressed are not necessarily shared by Questions or concerns about the preceding article can be directed to the author or posted as a comment below.

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  • amelie


    January 17th, 2012 at 4:38 PM

    depression has affected my work in the job was in danger but I just managed to hold on.while there is not a lot you can do about unforeseen events like death of a dear one,as in my case,I certainly believe that exercise does help you feel a lot better even on a normal day.this I tell from my experience.I always try to incorporate exercise in my daily schedule.

  • George


    January 17th, 2012 at 11:52 PM

    Doesn’t matter which one causes the other,the fact that job stress is increasing due to an ever-decreasing job pool and the rise of depression in general should be an alert.But what’s happening is that each one is promoting the other thereby making the situation even worse.

    We need to take charge,on a personal level.Some efforts are required on community and higher levels too.

  • Joan


    January 18th, 2012 at 5:24 AM

    For some job burnout is definitely going to contribute to getting depressed, while for others it is going to be the other way around. Just like with anything else there is no easy one way or the other kind of answer. They are both a possibility given where you are in your job and really where you are in life. We all have some ups and downs and sometimes one thing causes something and sometimes it is the other way around. I don’t think there can be only black or white on this one.

  • nicole


    January 18th, 2012 at 7:04 AM

    depression can occur due to a wide variety of reasons. And jobs are something that people have always had to deal with. Problem is that due to all the job cuts and other things we are having to work harder to keep our jobs now when compared to our parents. Thus the growing relationship between job stress and depression.

  • solomon


    January 18th, 2012 at 4:01 PM

    Depression is a root cause of all evil in my experience. It can change the good to the bad in an instant. Even if you have a job that you once loved when you are depressed it is hard to find anything about it to love anymore. The hardest thing baout it too is that some of us find all of this so difficult to manage, we think that it is just going to go away on its own. But it rarely does, and those who have a hard time talking about how they feel are going to have an even harder time finding something to love in life again.

  • Langston


    January 19th, 2012 at 1:47 PM

    It is important to note that when you are dissatisfied with your job this can play out numerous ways in your life and becoming depressed is one of the most common ways that we see. That does not mean that it is realistic for everyone who becomes down with their job to quit and find something new. That is not always a possibility. But it could at least give you something to work toward when you know that this could be a serious issue in your life.

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