People drawing

Are depression, anxiety and stress contagious across organizations?

Monday 13 Jun 22

COVID-19 has influenced our daily life and our life tremendously. Carina Lomberg, DTU Entrepreneurship, Julia Kensbock, Maastricht University, and Lars Alkærsig, DTU Entrepreneurship have looked at the different type of virus, namely depression, anxiety and stress-related disorders and whether this could spread similar to infectious disease epidemically.

The researchers empirically tested their proposed transmission mechanisms with a sample of 250,000 employees hired in 17,000 Danish firms over a period of 12 years. Their findings published in the paper “The Epidemic of Mental Disorders in Business—How Depression, Anxiety, and Stress Spread across Organizations through Employee Mobility” show that there is such a mechanism that new hires implant depression, anxiety, and stress-related disorders into their companies.

What is more striking is that it is not only when you hire employees that have been diagnosed themselves. It is also when you hire from a company that has a high number of infected employees, so if you hire from what we call an unhealthy organization. And the effect is stronger if you hire people into a managerial position or if people have been working in such an unhealthy company for a long period of time.

Social contagion

> Stress, anxiety or depression, they do not transmit via coughing or sneezing. 

Carina Lomberg, says “There is a bunch of research out there that has shown that there is a different mechanism at play. It is called social contagion. And what happens is that human beings they tend to mimic other people around them. So if other people around us are showing some emotions, some judgments, and feelings then we tend to mimic them. And when we work over a long period of time and our co-workers show signs of feeling depressed, being fearful, being cynical, this is what we tend to mimic as well. And this is how such a mental disorder can spread.”

One key of preventing the spread of mental disorders within a company is to carefully integrate new hires into onboarding processes. 

The second thing, we do not want people to get stigmatized because of their mental disorders. The researchers’ findings show that independent of whether you had a formal diagnosis or not, you can implant mental disorders into a new company if you are coming from an unhealthy organization. Instead, focus should be on the strengths of individuals, focusing on the positive things and open a dialogue. Carina Lomberg comments, “because like this, we can stop the spread within an organization. And when we focus on the positive things, who knows, maybe we can also spread well-being across organizations”.

The above video is the third in a series of research videos presented by DTU Entrepreneurship. See more videos here.

Published paper: The Epidemic of Mental Disorders in Business—How Depression, Anxiety, and Stress Spread across Organizations through Employee Mobility

About our research in entrepreneurship and health

Successful entrepreneurs seem to be particularly good at coping with high levels of stress. However, many new ventures fail, and this experience can have severe negative health effects. We investigate how being an entrepreneur affects one’s health, and in turn, how the health of an entrepreneur affects his or her start-up. We explore particular types of entrepreneurs (e.g., hybrid entrepreneurs, serial entrepreneurs, novice entrepreneurs, entrepreneurs with ADHD) and various forms of psychological and physiological health effects (e.g. burnout).

Do you want to explore more about our research in entrepreneurial teams 
Reach out to Carina Lomberg, Associate Professor or Lars Alkærsig, Associate Professor.

Examples of published papers 

About research at DTU Entrepreneurship in general

We focus on evidence-based research to tackle a wide range of issues and provide opportunities for social and economic change.

Creating new knowledge that matters
The Centre for Technology Entrepreneurship puts evidence-based research in focus on a wide range of management, pedagogic, and policy issues related to entrepreneurship and innovation. 

Our research promotes technology-based entrepreneurship by generating, disseminating, and applying knowledge and competencies to education and business development within and beyond DTU. 

Researchers conduct both conceptual and empirical research using various research methods to create societal impact. Drawing upon DTU’s research excellence, the Centre collaborates closely with students, researchers, startup communities, industries, investors, and policymakers.

Do you want to explore more about research at DTU Entrepreneurship
Reach out to Professor, Head of Research, Jason Li-Ying

Research areas