Depression Costly to Employers

Posted on Monday, April 15, 2019

Depression and employees suffering from mental health issues can be costly for employers. Often employees don't want to admit they are struggling with these issues and may tend to shy away from help. The consequences are often felt, however, in workplace productivity.

What's an Employer to Do?

Following are proactive steps employers can take to lessen the costs of depression: 

1. Set up an employee assistance program (EAP) and include in the service mental health assistance. Regularly inform employees about the EAP services and encourage employees who feel they may be dealing with depression symptoms to seek help through the EAP.


Tips for Spotting Depression

Some of the signs of possible depression that managers and supervisors can see in the workplace include:

Heightened conflict between employees.
Disruptive behavior by an employee.
Dramatic change in an employee's performance or productivity.
Loss of initiative, motivation, or drive in a previously good-performing employee.
An employee has difficulty concentrating.
An employee is consistently arriving late to work or leaving work early.
An employee is experiencing chronic physical pain.
An employee is abusing alcohol and/or drugs.
An employee is often angry.
Unexplained outbursts from an employee.
An employee says he or she is going to commit suicide.

Warning to managers and supervisors: You can make observations about symptoms that could be caused by depression. But never make a diagnostic conclusion. Leave that to medical and mental health professionals.

2. Make depression screenings available to employees. For help with this contact a mental health service or hospital in your area.

Or simply inform your employees that a free, confidential depression screening test (10 quick questions) is available online at www.depression-screening.org. This site is sponsored by the National Mental Health Association (NMHA).

The depression screening test has questions like these: In the past two weeks how often have you... been blaming others for things? ... had difficulty falling asleep or staying asleep? ... had difficulty concentrating or making decisions?

3. Give managers and supervisors information about depression. Even more important, train managers and supervisors in how to identify symptoms of possible depression in employees. Train them in how to engage in supportive conversations with employees whose work performance and/or behavior at work may indicate the employee is affected by depression.

Have managers and supervisors take the confidential depression screening test at www.depression-screening.org so that they better understand the symptoms of depression. (Also, by taking this test those managers and supervisors who may be dealing with depression may be prompted to seek professional help.)

Important: This is a dangerous area for managers and supervisors to get involved in because it touches employees' very personal health matters. Employees have legal protections against violations of their personal privacy and against any discrimination based on real or perceived health conditions. (However, advise managers and supervisors what to do if an employee says he or she is going to commit suicide -- a warning sign of depression. Call 911 and/or seek help for the person immediately from a mental health professional. Keep the matter confidential and share information about the matter only with those who have a legitimate need to know.)

Best approach: The safest approach for managers and supervisors who suspect an employee may be dealing with depression is to talk with the employee about his or her work-related performance and observed behavior in the workplace. Invite the employee to suggest what could be causing the change in performance or changed behavior. Ask the employee to suggest what the manager, supervisor and the employer might do to help the employee. If the employee volunteers information or makes comments that suggest the possibility the employee could need help in dealing with symptoms of depression, then the manager or supervisor can encourage the employee to seek help from an available service or professional.

Most important: Document these conversations with employees. Keep all personal health-related information confidential.

4. Inform all managers, supervisors and employees that the employer makes reasonable accommodation to employees who are dealing with depression so that the employee is able to continue to work while obtaining needed medical care for the illness. For example, allow employees time off for treatment for their condition and/or be flexible in the employee's work schedule to accommodate time away from work for treatment.

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