Can flow experiences be protective of work-related depressive symptoms and burnout? A genetically informative approach

J Affect Disord. 2018 Jan 15;226:6-11. doi: 10.1016/j.jad.2017.09.017. Epub 2017 Sep 18.


Background: Genetic research on depression and burnout has focused mostly on adverse factors, although various aspects in daily life related to positive coping and well-being have been shown to potentially be protective. Using a large genetically informative sample, we aim to explore the potential relationship between flow proneness and work-related depressive symptoms and burnout.

Methods: About 10,000 Swedish twins filled in the Swedish Flow Proneness Questionnaire, a subscale of the Hopkins Symptom Checklist (SCL) depression scale, and the Emotional Exhaustion subscale of the Maslach Burnout Inventory-General Survey. A higher score indicated more flow, less emotional exhaustion and less depression. The classical twin design and co-twin control analyses were applied.

Results: Phenotypic correlations were .43 between depressive symptoms and flow proneness, .34 between burnout and flow proneness, and .62 between depressive symptoms and burnout. Broad-sense heritabilities (G) ranged between 33-35% for the three variables. Associations between the variables were due to significant genetic as well as non-shared environmental influences. Co-twin control analyses showed that associations remained significant when controlling for all genetic and shared familial factors, in line with a causal relationship.

Limitations: Although the co-twin control design can test for consistency of associations with a causal relationship, it cannot unequivocally establish causality.

Conclusions: Genetic liability has a substantial influence on associations between flow proneness and emotional problems at work (depression, burnout). However, the presence of significant environmental correlations is in line with a (partly) causal relationship between flow and work related depression and burnout, which in turn may suggest that interventions which increase flow could potentially reduce emotional problems at work.

Keywords: Emotional exhaustion; Intervention; Mental health; Twin; Well-being.

Publication types

  • Twin Study

MeSH terms

  • Adaptation, Psychological*
  • Adult
  • Burnout, Professional / psychology*
  • Depressive Disorder / psychology*
  • Emotions*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Surveys and Questionnaires
  • Sweden
  • Twins, Dizygotic
  • Twins, Monozygotic