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.
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