Objective This study investigated work engagement as a baseline predictor of onset of major depressive episode (MDE). Methods The study used a prospective cohort design, conforming to the STROBE checklist. Participants were recruited from the employee population of a private think tank company (N = 4,270), and 1,058 (24.8%) of them completed a baseline survey, of whom 929 were included in this study. Work engagement and psychological distress at baseline were assessed as predictor variables. MDE was measured at baseline and at each of the followups as the outcome, using the web-based, self-administered version of the Japanese WHO-CIDI 3.0 depression section based upon DSM-IV-TR/DSM-5 criteria. Cox discretetime hazards analyses were conducted to estimate hazard ratios (95% confidence intervals CIs). Results Follow-up rates of participants (N = 929) were 78.4%, 67.2%, and 51.6% at 1-, 2-, and 3- year follow-ups, respectively. The association between work engagement at baseline and the onset of MDE was U-shaped. Compared with a group with low work engagement scores, groups with the middle and high scores showed significantly (HR = 0.19, 95% CI = 0.05 to 0.64; p = 0.007) and marginally significantly (HR = 0.48, 95% CI = 0.20 to 1.15, p = 0.099) lower risks of MDE, respectively, over the follow-ups, after adjusting for covariates. The pattern remained the same after additionally adjusting for psychological distress. Conclusions The present study first demonstrated work engagement as an important predictor of the onset of MDE diagnosed according to an internationally standard diagnostic criteria of mental disorders.
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