How happy are your employees and what can be done to improve the work environment
Stress, certain environments and repetitive tasks can all lead to depression
among employees. Although many outside factors, such as family trauma,
financial issues and medical conditions can also contribute to an employee’s
depression, it is important for employers to recognize the signs and symptoms.
Identifying depression early not only encourages early treatment, but
reduces the economic loss felt by businesses.
Depression is a common condition in the United States – one out of
every two families has a depressed relative. This high incidence translates
to approximately 20 million depressed employees in America. As discussed
in previous posts, medical conditions and outside factors affect worker
productivity and result in financial losses for businesses and annual
cost estimates due to depression range from $70 billion to $83.1 billion1.
Of the above:
• $12 billion from lost productivity
• $12 billion to absenteeism
• $26.1 billion from direct treatment costs • $5.4 billion from mortality2
In addition to these direct costs, depressed employees’ disability
costs are about 4.5 times greater than non-depressed employees3. With these significant losses to employers in this economy, it is more
important than ever to recognize signs of depression among employees.
What are the symptoms of workplace depression?
Workplace depression can present in many ways. These include:
• Withdrawal or avoidance of social situations
• Speaking up less during meetings; loss of confidence
• Increase of conflict between employees or seeking out arguments
• Change in appetite or weight
• Reduced problem solving ability
• Reduced capacity for time management
• Reduced concentration on normal duties
• Inability to practice flexibility4,5
What are contributing factors to workplace depression?
Depression is caused by a disorder within the brain. Genetics may contribute
to the likelihood of developing depression, but many people may develop
symptoms without any family history of the illness.
Typically, a combination of genetics and environmental factors are involved
with the onset of symptoms. Factors such as trauma, loss of a loved one,
difficult relationship, financial issues or a stressful change in someone’s
life (welcome or unwelcome) can trigger an initial episode. After the
onset, later episodes may be brought on without an obvious trigger6.
In addition to causes outside of the office, stressors and workplace conditions
can lead to depressive symptoms. These contributors include interpersonal
conflicts, work demands, organizational politics, lack of faith in organizational
management or leadership and perceived control over job duties and job
What can employers do?
Only half of those who experience depression actually seek treatment, but
for those that do, treatment is found to be up to 80 percent effective
over the long term. To avoid any stigma or resistance, screening and encouraging
healthy mental habits should be integrated into a company’s overall
wellness program and promoting healthy lifestyles for employees.
Evaluating what causes stress for employees is a simple way to integrate
a support system for workers who might be experiencing depression. For
example, stress can contribute to obesity, sickness and even memory loss.
Supporting a healthy lifestyle by encouraging walking breaks, health snacking
and other habits that improve the quality of life for employees will reduce
employee stress and lessen the chance of its contribution to depression.
Educating workers about depression is one of the first steps to becoming
self-aware if there is an issue. Counselors or outside experts can also
be brought in to “depression proof” the workplace and help
employers avoid tasking workers with unclear job expectations, consistently
short work deadlines, monotonous job responsibilities, limited opportunities
for creativity, negligible social and psychological support or discriminatory factors8. Although resources may be limited, screening for and providing preventative
care for employees can save businesses thousands of dollars in expenses
required for providing disability or care for employees who may be forced
to leave due to depression9.
Written by Leeann Garms