Diversity and Inclusion

How to Support Employee Depression in the Workplace

1 in 6 people encounter mental health issues at work. In the United States, an average of 16.1 million workers suffer from depression, making it the primary cause of disability. Clinical depression results in over $51 billion in lost productivity and absenteeism, while direct treatment costs businesses $26 billion, ranking it among the costliest illnesses to address in the U.S.

Despite its significant and increasing impact, many employers adopt an informal approach when addressing employee depression in the workplace, often becoming aware of mental health issues only when team members’ performance suffers. Ideally, employees should feel comfortable reporting mental health concerns to their managers, allowing for timely support and the minimization of adverse organizational impacts.

The lack of mental health education can contribute to increased mental health challenges, leaving the person unaware of their struggles, potentially blaming themselves, and lacking a support network. As a manager, you might find yourself overseeing an employee struggling with depression, even if they are unaware of it. Therefore, it’s crucial for managers to make their employees’ mental well-being a top priority.

What are common signs an employee is depressed?

Common signs an employee is depressed can vary depending on the person. There are different faces of depression for example, one person might get quiet and sad, while another could easily become irritated or angry. Some people may hardly show any signs or even seem happy, despite what they’re going through. While the main focus isn’t to “diagnose” someone, it’s important to be aware of the range of different symptoms that may help identify an employee suffering from depression.

  • Continuous feelings of sadness and emptiness

  • Expressing hopelessness, helplessness, worthlessness, or pessimism

  • Decreased productivity or increased absenteeism, that  is unusual for them

  • Signs of substance misuse

  • Overwhelming fatigue and loss of interest in usual activities

  • Changes in eating habits, potentially leading to noticeable weight fluctuations

  • Frequent crying, anxiety, or panic attacks

  • Sleep problems resulting in tardiness or excessive sleepiness

  • Easily agitated

  • Difficulty focusing, remembering, or making decisions

  • Persistent physical symptoms or unexplained pains

  • Hints, jokes, or direct mentions of suicide

How does an employee suffering from depression impact the workplace?

A depressed employee doesn’t leave their symptoms behind when they come to work; it accompanies them throughout their day. Their struggle isn’t just about having a ‘bad day’ at work but it’s a series of difficult days that can further deteriorate their mental well-being. Untreated depression can significantly impact job performance and lead to other serious outcomes if not addressed. Similar to other health conditions, early detection and effective treatment can reduce its severity and impact.

Here are just a few ways an employee suffering from depression can affect work:

Sleep disturbance, sometimes severe, is a common sign an employee is depressed. Poor sleep can result in loss of focus and coordination. This can lead to seriously unsafe conditions especially if the individual is working in a hazardous environment.

A depressed employee finds it hard to concentrate, leading to decreased productivity. They might take longer to finish tasks or start missing deadlines because they can’t focus well enough to complete their work on time.

An employee suffering from depression struggles to fully focus on their job due to their condition’s symptoms. When someone can’t concentrate effectively, they’re prone to making more errors. While minor mistakes might go unnoticed initially, they can accumulate eventually leading to low work performance. Major mistakes might even jeopardize their employment.

A depressed employee might have distorted perspectives and become more easily irritated. This can cause misunderstandings and unfriendly interactions with coworkers. Trying to hide their negative feelings from colleagues can also affect work relationships and contribute to overall work culture.

An employee suffering from depression may experience symptoms that make it difficult to go to work. These difficulties may make it hard for them to commute or get through the day. Depression can even cause physical symptoms like severe headaches and other health problems that require sick leave.

Why leaders should be on the lookout for employee depression in the workplace?

Employee depression in the workplace not only affects production but also the overall work culture. When people think of disabilities, they often imagine someone in a wheelchair or with a guide dog. However, some disabilities are not apparent and are known as invisible disabilities. Depression falls into this category, and as a leader, it’s vital to raise awareness on invisible disability at work and create a welcoming and safe environment. When it comes to dealing with an employee suffering from depression, it’s crucial to find the right accommodations that support their physical and mental well-being, helping them be their best selves at work.

To create a more inclusive workplace for everyone, the initial crucial step is to invest in Inclusive Leadership Training. This training provides managers with the necessary skills to effectively support employee depression in the workplace or other disabilities. This can serve as a valuable resource, outlining the skills leaders and managers require to assist an employee suffering from depression.

What to do if an employee says they are depressed: 7 effective strategies for managers

Supporting employees dealing with depression is a crucial responsibility for employees, yet the challenge lies in discerning how leaders and managers can fulfill this duty. As a leader, manager, or team member, your contribution is essential in shaping an individual’s ability to navigate their depression symptoms effectively.

With this perspective in mind, let’s explore seven strategies on how to support employee depression in the workplace:

  1. Recognize the signs
    Demonstrating awareness and identifying the telltale signs of an employee experiencing depression marks a significant initial stride. It’s helpful to spot the signs early so that you can take the initiative to talk with them informally, rather than waiting for them to approach you which might take much longer or not happen at all.

  2. Employee Feedback
    It’s easy to overlook one of the most critical resources at your disposal – your employees’ voices. Their feedback uncovers crucial insights about your workplace, highlighting issues like discrimination, mismanagement, and workplace burnout that can negatively affect mental health. Fostering an open culture where employees feel empowered to voice their opinions and concerns leads to a healthier and safer work environment for all.

    Related: Learn How Employee Feedback Creates Safer Work Environments.

  3. Encourage a positive dialogue on mental health
    Creating a work environment that supports open conversations about mental health also fosters psychological safety. There are various ways to accomplish this. Start by addressing mental health in one-on-one meetings, as some people may find it easier to discuss their well-being in private settings. If you feel comfortable, sharing your own experiences with mental health can be highly impactful. When your team witnesses leaders embracing vulnerability and sharing their stories, it inspires others to do the same.

  4. Make Adjustments
    Managers often worry that focusing on helping depressed employees will detract attention and resources from the rest of the team, but it doesn’t have to be that way. It depends on how you make these changes. You can support both the employee who needs help and the rest of the team at the same time if you approach the situation in a thoughtful way.

    You can take steps to create a supportive workplace that’s still efficient and productive. For example, you could offer flexible work hours for therapy, share work in a way that isn’t overwhelming to the rest of the team, and introduce initiatives to improve everyone’s mental health.

  5. Respect Confidentiality
    Employees may be hesitant to share their mental health concerns due to the fear that it could negatively affect their reputation, job security, or professional growth opportunities. It’s crucial to clarify early in the conversation that whatever they share will remain confidential when discussing mental health with you.

    However, it’s important to note that confidentiality has its limits, particularly when someone is at risk of harming themselves. In such cases, it’s crucial to take every measure to ensure the employee’s safety, which may involve informing a relevant authority or calling emergency services to ensure your colleague receives prompt and appropriate assistance.

  6. Accessibility
    Employers can play a crucial role in supporting employees with depression. One key step is to include depression checks in health assessments and employee assistance programs. It’s also important for employers to ensure their health plans use reliable screening tools, such as the nine-item Patient Health Questionnaire (PHQ-9).

    Additionally, employers should communicate to their health plans that they want primary care doctors to regularly screen for depression and offer collaborative care. According to Workplace Mental Health, this evidence-based approach involves a care team in the primary care setting, including a care manager, a primary care provider, and a mental health specialist, and has a proven track record of improving treatment outcomes.

  7. Assistance
    Encourage employees to use support and health programs. Early intervention is important. Keep reminding them about the resources for staying mentally and physically well and productive. Make sure they know how to access mental health support confidentially and quickly. Share these messages during stressful times, like holidays and when there are events that might disrupt work and the community.

Addressing employee depression in the workplace can lower medical costs, increase productivity, reduce absenteeism, and cut disability expenses. In short, having a mentally healthy workforce is good for business.

An employee suffering from depression can thrive with the support of their employers. Supporting them is not just about their health and work performance, it’s also about showing care and compassion. Employees are people first, and when an organization supports their employee’s human needs, they are able to show up wholly and embrace their potential to grow within the organization.

Addressing Employee Depression in the Workplace

Dealing with employee depression in the workplace can be tough, especially without a clear plan. At The Rise Journey, we’re dedicated to assisting your organization in fostering a positive organizational culture and addressing any workplace challenges. 

We provide valuable resources and support through our learning & developement training, coaching programs, mental wellness focused Lunch & Learns, HR & organizational assessments that’ll help organizations assess their progress, and more.

Connect with our team to get started!

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