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Dealing With Employee Depression in The Workplace


In a study involving 8 countries, it was discovered that workplace depression cost businesses just under 250 billion US dollars in one year.

According to research fellow at the London school of Economics and Political Science, Dr. Sara Evans-Lacko, the cost is due both to absenteeism and lowered productivity. The same study notes that in cases the cause of workplace depression can  have a negative impact on a country’s overall GDP.

This should be more than enough information to motivate employers and others to take action. This includes learning to recognize depression in employees, offering help and resources, taking preventative measures, and finally understanding when an employee might be in real criss. If you are an employee wellness manager it falls to you to take the lead on this issue. The following strategies can be implemented as a way to start dealing effectively with workplace depression.

Recognize Workplace Triggers For Depression

You can’t control whether or not a worker has clinical depression. There’s also no guaranteed way of interceding in their life outside of work. However, you can take action to ensure that the workplace policies and procedures you have in place aren’t contributed to depression and lower morale. Here are a few examples of things that employees find demoralizing:

  • Lack of communication from management
  • Uncomfortable work areas
  • Micro management
  • Low wages and subpar benefits
  • Lack of training and resources

Keep in mind that employee perception on these issues may not match management’s. Because of this, it’s a good idea to collect anonymous feedback from workers to determine if these are an issue.

Create a Work Culture That Encourages Self Care

Madalyn Parker, a web developer at Olark emailed her boss to tell him that she was taking a couple of days off for mental health reasons. Many people who did that might expect to be ordered into work, or to receive a not very pleased response. In this case, Parker’s boss not only accepted her choice, he praised her for taking care of herself. She shared the incident on social media and it went viral.

There will always be times when it is necessary to work long hours, or to expect workers to put in an extensive effort for the good of the company. However, the trend towards over extending oneself and prioritizing work above all else is unhealthy. Good employers will encourage employees to take time off when needed and attend to all of their health needs.

Learn The Early Symptoms That an Employee is Struggling

There are things you can do to help employees struggling with depression. Before you can take action, you must recognize that they are having an issue. Here are some signs to watch out for:

  • Frequent absenteeism
  • Gradual or sudden loss of productivity
  • Conflicts with other employees
  • Lack of personal hygiene
  • Evidence of substance use
  • Change in overall mood and disposition

When these signs are evident, employers have several options. They can speak to the employee to determine if the trigger is work related, or if something can be done to accommodate the employee until they get back on track. If possible, provide referrals to mental health providers. Finally, let employees know that if they seek help, they will be supported. Many depressed people don’t seek intensive help when they need it, because they feel losing their positions.

Finally, know when an employee might be a danger to themselves or others. If this is the case, Human Resources, company security, and potentially law enforcement should be informed.

Meet Employees Needs During The Work Day

The things that happen, or don’t happen, throughout the day can have impacts on each employee’s mental health and outlook. Some of these impacts are small, but incremental. Others are bigger than you may realize.

One thing to consider is workspace ergonomics. Simply put, are your workers comfortable with the furniture you’ve provided with them, the devices they use, even the lighting they’ve chosen? Remember they spend eight hours, possibly more in the office each day. Although, for employees who prefer it, offering flexible time or work from home options is usually a very well-received gesture.

Don’t overlook food and beverage as it impacts the work day. There’s a reason why companies like Google offer employees a wide variety of dining options. These options accommodate religious and cultural dietary preferences, and ensure that workers have access to plenty of food choices. It’s simply one of those morale boosting measures that can stave off depression.

In addition to meeting needs, it’s also important to encourage employees to enjoy themselves at work as well. Depending on the culture of your business, that can range from providing video game consoles in the breakroom to an on site gym facility. Some employers have even recognized the value of pets in the workplace. Some workplaces have programs where shelter animals are brought into the workplace for play and interaction. Along the same lines, if a worker has an emotional support animal, employers shouldn’t just allow this, they should make the accommodations for the animal as welcoming and comfortable as possible.

Encourage Employees to Seek Mental Health Screenings

In order to appease health insurance companies, many employers strongly encourage workers to get annual physicals. Some go so far as including nutritional and weight loss counseling as part of extended employee benefits programs. Why not take such initiative when it comes to mental health wellness, and preventive care.

A mental health screening, done by a professional can be extraordinarily helpful. They can catch employees who are anxious and stressed out early enough that intervention may be relatively simple. These screenings can also  help to identify an employee who is depressed enough that they may be considering leaving. Yes, these exams do come as a cost, but the payoff is well worth it when the workforce is healthy and productive.

Hire to Company Culture And Help Existing Employees Find a Fitting Path

Unfortunately, a couple of causes of depression in the workplace are a bit stickier to manage. These are when a worker simply doesn’t fit into the organization’s culture, or when the employee has pursued a line of work that is simply not for them.

In the first case, the best measure is usually preventative. When posting job listings or interviewing people, be very open and forward about the company culture. If recruiters are used to bring in staff, be very clear with them about the kind of people who will be the best fit.

Of course, once an employee is hired, it’s difficult to know how to proceed once you realize they don’t fit. If the culture issue is a team or location problem, you may be able to suggest a transfer to a new department or location. If possible, a talented worker who doesn’t quite fit in could be allowed to work remotely, even be converted to contractor status. Otherwise, an honest but difficult conversation may be in order.

What do you do when it becomes clear a worker simply isn’t good at what they do? First, realize that nobody wants to work at a job they aren’t good at. Addressing this with an employee may be more of a relief to them than you realize. Still the fear of losing a job and income is quite real. It can help to explore options with the employee. If they fit in with the culture and have a good work ethic, it may be worth the investment to train them for another path.

Depression at work is a global issue. It’s not something that impacts some cultures but not others. It can have a serious impact on the company’s bottom line. Worse, if it isn’t dealt with, otherwise good workers can really suffer. If you suspect depression or other mental health issues are a problem in your company, be proactive and apply strategies to help.

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