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Long working hours and symptoms of anxiety and depression: a 5-year follow-up of the Whitehall II study

  • M. Virtanen (a1), J. E. Ferrie (a2), A. Singh-Manoux (a2) (a3) (a4), M. J. Shipley (a2), S. A. Stansfeld (a5), M. G. Marmot (a2), K. Ahola (a1), J. Vahtera (a1) (a6) (a7) and M. Kivimäki (a2)
  • DOI:
  • Published online: 18 February 2011

Although long working hours are common in working populations, little is known about the effect of long working hours on mental health.


We examined the association between long working hours and the onset of depressive and anxiety symptoms in middle-aged employees. Participants were 2960 full-time employees aged 44 to 66 years (2248 men, 712 women) from the prospective Whitehall II cohort study of British civil servants. Working hours, anxiety and depressive symptoms, and covariates were measured at baseline (1997–1999) followed by two subsequent measurements of depressive and anxiety symptoms (2001 and 2002–2004).


In a prospective analysis of participants with no depressive (n=2549) or anxiety symptoms (n=2618) at baseline, Cox proportional hazard analysis adjusted for baseline covariates showed a 1.66-fold [95% confidence interval (CI) 1.06–2.61] risk of depressive symptoms and a 1.74-fold (95% CI 1.15–2.61) risk of anxiety symptoms among employees working more than 55 h/week compared with employees working 35–40 h/week. Sex-stratified analysis showed an excess risk of depression and anxiety associated with long working hours among women [hazard ratios (HRs) 2.67 (95% CI 1.07–6.68) and 2.84 (95% CI 1.27–6.34) respectively] but not men [1.30 (0.77–2.19) and 1.43 (0.89–2.30)].


Working long hours is a risk factor for the development of depressive and anxiety symptoms in women.

Corresponding author
*Address for correspondence: Dr M. Virtanen, Finnish Institute of Occupational Health, Work and Mental Health Team, Topeliuksenkatu 41 aA, FIN-00250 Helsinki, Finland. (Email:
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