By Dr. Donna
LaMar and Betsy Laney
You’ve likely seen the symptoms in some of your co-workers
and staff: decreased productivity, irritability, absenteeism, low
energy, withdrawal, and possibly even anger and anxiety. While these
could be the telltale signs of a lazy, bored, or unmotivated
employee, they could also indicate something more serious – a
Although workplace depression may seem like a topic to be
avoided at all costs (after all, personal problems don’t belong at
work, right?) the facts are startling. Depression affects more than
19 million American adults and costs companies $12 billion in lost
work and $11 billion in decreased productivity. And since 80 percent
of people suffering from depression can be helped and recover, it is
definitely worth an employer or manager’s time to help a depressed
In fact, by addressing depression at work, companies can
increase the bottom line and decrease many everyday problems, such
as tardiness, co-worker conflict, customer complaints, and poor
quality of work, just to name a few. The key is to get past the
perception that depression is only a “personal” problem that should
be ignored at work.
So what exactly is depression? Depression is a person’s
reaction to an event or experience that interferes with healthy
functioning. It involves body, mind, and spirit – feelings,
thoughts, and behaviors – and may be one time or recurrent.
Sometimes it comes in a manic-depression with both high and low
swings. Ultimately, depression occurs when the person is
experiencing life changes that are difficult to handle or that have
no perceived resolution.
If you notice that certain employees seem to have “checked
out” at the office, realize that depression may be to blame. Use the
following suggestions for being proactive and helping your employees
through this time.
1. Learn about and
educate your staff about depression:
As an employer or manager, one of your top priorities is
caring for your employees. Therefore, empower your staff so they
understand and can recognize depression. One initial step is to
create a simple brochure about workplace depression and hand it out
to each staff member. If creating a brochure seems too daunting of a
task for you, find an existing brochure from a local depression
support group and customize it to your company.
To take the message a step further, bring in a speaker or
consultant to teach your staff about depression and how to deal with
it. Remember, all employees need to know about this topic, not just
management. In many companies, management does not have daily
in-depth contact with every employee. That’s why you want all
employees to be able to recognize the signs so they can bring it to
2. Set up resources
for those suffering with depression:
Resources include once-a-year depression screenings,
telephone contacts to support those struggling with depression,
referrals to help (EAP, counseling/psychotherapy, human resources,
etc.), or even just being available to those who need to talk. While
larger companies might want to invest in written assessments, even
smaller companies can be proactive by providing simple human contact
that says, “Hey, you look a little down. Let’s talk. I’m here for
you. Can I help you get to counseling?” Small compassionate gestures
can go a long way toward helping someone deal with depression.
3. Talk to your
staff early, but don’t diagnose:
Remember that you’re an employer, not a psychologist. You’re not trained
to diagnose, and nor should you. It’s your job to meet the needs of
the business by helping your people become better employees for the
business. With that said though, you can be supportive and concerned
by saying things like: “I am concerned that recently you’ve been
late to work… that you aren’t meeting your performance objectives...
that you seem depressed. I would like to help you get back on
Realize, too, that there’s a lot of help available for
employers. You can call a counseling center or psychotherapist and
run things by them. You can say, “Here’s what’s going on with one of
my employees…does this sound like something I need to address or
refer out?” Develop that kind of relationship with someone or some
organization in your area that can offer you support so you can take
that first step to dealing with workplace depression.
4. Create good
working conditions by using ecotherapy techniques:
Ecotherapy is well researched and proven to work
because humans are part of nature. Things that contribute to
creating a healthy work environment include:
Live plants –
Research indicates that the color of green and the fresh oxygen
plants give help us in many ways, including raising our alpha
Research says that even something as simple as fish reduces
stress and improves mood. Watching fish swim relaxes the brain
and gives people a lift.
light bulbs – Lighting that mimics natural sunlight lifts our
mood and helps the body make the minerals and vitamins we need
to feel well, such as Vitamin D, which combats depression and
increases our energy level.
work space – Cubicles often reinforce isolation and depression.
The more personal items a person brings to the office, the less
depressed he or she will be.
the natural world – Allow for walks in a park, a wooded area, or
anyplace outdoors so people can refresh and reconnect with the
availability – If your company has a cafeteria or even a vending
machine, make sure there are healthy food options available.
Nutritious foods are essential for energy, mental functioning,
and overall health.
5. Be prepared to
act quickly if necessary:
Be aware that depression, if it has lasted long enough and stems from
past traumas, may become life threatening. Therefore, be ready to
move immediately – take the person to the hospital, call the
employee’s family or doctor, contact the police, etc. Do not
hesitate if there is even the slightest chance of someone hurting
him or herself (don’t worry…depressed people usually do not hurt
This doesn’t mean you have meddle into people’s personal
lives; it’s about having your finger on the pulse of your workers,
so to speak, and being aware of sudden changes and what’s going on.
For example, if someone who seems depressed says to you, “Well, it’s
been nice knowing you” or “I may not see you next week,” those are
hints that you need to act fast.
Most depressed people want help; they just don’t know how to
ask for it or they are too tired or lethargic and don’t have the
energy to get help on their own. So your taking the initiative to
offer help will usually be readily accepted.
end, not dealing with or ignoring workplace depression will
negatively affect your company’s bottom line. You’ll view your
employees as “frustrating” because they’ll miss work, be tardy,
display poor problem solving skills, and epitomize a host of other
But the workplace doesn’t have to be that way. Your staff can be
motivated and productive – the kind of people who naturally attract
clients and display high morale, thus resulting in increased
profits. With so many companies wanting to find ways to boost
productivity and realize a higher bottom line, dealing with
workplace depression should be a priority for every employer.
Read other articles and learn more about
Donna LaMar and Betsy Laney.
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