Employee Depression Leads to Lost Productivity, High Costs

Posted on Friday, June 07, 2019

At any given time, one in ten employees suffers from depression. The consequences of depression in the workplace -- in terms of absenteeism and lost productivity -- is estimated to run $52 billion annually. According to employees who suffer from depression, this illness hampers their ability to work effectively in many ways.  

Workplace Effects of Depression

    83% of employees say they lack motivation.
   82% have difficulty concentrating.
   62% find tasks overwhelming.
   45% arrive late for work or leave early.
   24% experience chronic physical pain.
   20% have difficulty dealing with colleagues.

This data, reported by the University of Michigan Depression Center (UMDC), underscores the effect that employee depression has on a business's bottom line. The Depression in the Workplace study was conducted through interviews with depressed employees (those who received treatment within the last three years), as well as middle managers and benefit managers.

Half of the employees surveyed reported having been so depressed that they missed work, typically one to three days a month. When depressed, 38 percent of employees said they couldn't carry out their normal workplace responsibilities. Surveyed managers ranked the impact of depression on employee productivity as greater than that caused by drug or alcohol abuse, heart disease, or diabetes.

The Bad News

According to the study, employers think they are addressing the problem of depression by taking steps to help staff members deal with the illness. But those steps are not necessarily helping employees.

Here's what benefit managers said about the disease:

83 percent report that their companies try to ensure that employees with depression receive help, but only 37 percent of them conduct proactive depression education programs.
65 said that employees have access to an employee assistance program (EAP), but only 14 percent of the surveyed employees have ever contacted the EAP.
78 percent agree that lost productivity cost their businesses more than treating the depression, but only 11 percent of the businesses offered depression screenings.

And what do employees say about depression? A full 89 percent report that they have some type of mental health care coverage, yet 75 percent delay seeking treatment and 36 percent receive only partial treatment. Why do covered employees fail to use their mental health benefits? The results of the survey indicate that it's not because they lack familiarity with the benefits, but because they fear that seeking depression treatment will cast them in a negative light at work and possibly affect career advancement. In companies implementing "best practices" programs for dealing with workplace depression, affected employees report better control over their symptoms and, consequently, become more effective at work.

The survey identified a number of  "best practices" that companies can implement to help employees deal with depression. They include:

Providing access to appropriate outpatient care.
Making information available that enables employees to identify symptoms of the disease and stresses the importance of seeking treatment.
Offering screening and early detection mechanisms.
Having guidelines for job accommodation that enable afflicted employees to seek treatment.
Providing supervisors with training to deal with the issue.
Having return-to-work plans for employees who have been absent due to depression.

Among companies that utilized these practices, employees reported higher levels of job satisfaction and were less likely to view depression as a barrier to career advancement. Also, among employees who received treatment, 88 percent said their effectiveness at work improved as a result.

Given the cost of depression -- both on its victims and their employers' business interests -- the identified best practices represent compassionate and smart workplace measures.

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