It’s not your job to diagnose depression in your staff, but you certainly can help. If you suspect that an employee is suffering from what is considered a true illness, it’s in your best interests to do something about it. Workplace depression costs businesses a lot of money. Lower productivity, absenteeism, and even drug and alcohol abuse on company premises can adversely affect your business’s success.
Here are some ways to effectively deal with an employee who may be clinically depressed:
- Get smart about depression. Find out what you can about this disease. Understanding, for instance, that depression is an illness, not a personality flaw or something that’s contagious, will help you manage the situation. Don’t treat it as a stigma; this will only make matters worse. Books and articles abound on the topic, and you could tap into the expertise of a local professional who specializes in the treatment of depression. Make sure managers or supervisors in your company become knowledgeable as well.
- Learn how to recognize depression. Pay attention to your employees: how’s morale? Is someone regularly absent, or does he or she seem constantly blue? Is anyone experiencing dramatic mood swings (anger, sadness, sulking, etc.)? Have you noticed a serious drop in productivity in any of your staff? Is the employee procrastinating more than usual? Does the individual withdraw from group activities? Look for signs that disrupt your operations, and determine if depression could be the source.
- Talk. Don’t be afraid to speak with an employee whom you believe might be suffering from depression. Carefully discuss any changes you’ve observed and express your concern. If you’ve noticed poor performance, discuss this and offer support. Allow the employee adequate time to explain the situation, and be sure to conduct this conversation in private. Empathy and a nonjudgmental stance on your part will go a long way toward easing the employee’s anxiety about opening up to you. You might, however, need to consider involving Human Resources for your protection and the employer’s.
- Be flexible when you can. A depressed employee might need extra time away from the office for treatment. Or you might determine that a leave of absence is necessary. Make sure you follow a prescribed company policy, and make allowances for the worker’s absence, like reassigning work and following up on any unfinished projects. Remember, depression could be a disability requiring accommodation, under state and federal law.
- Remember physical safety. Sometimes people suffering from depression may not care about their physical safety. Be alert for workplace accidents or circumstances that may lead to an accident. If you do notice unsafe behavior by someone you suspect is depressed, discuss this openly so that you can avoid dangerous situations.
- Recommend outside help. Just as you wouldn’t diagnose depression yourself, you shouldn’t try to treat it either. Recommend to employees with symptoms of depression that they seek help. This could come from your Employee Assistance Program (EAP) or a mental health professional, such as a social worker, clinical psychologist, or psychiatrist. The employee’s primary care physician can probably recommend someone. The idea is to set the care in motion.
- Take any threats seriously. A depressed person is not likely to harm coworkers. But you should be vigilant about responding to an employee’s remarks such as, “I want to die,” “life is not worth living anymore,” or “my family would be better off without me.” Seek the advice of a specialist immediately if you hear comments like these. You could save a life.
- Examine the workplace for stressors. The environment you create could be contributing to an employee’s depression. Be open to an honest assessment of your organization and determine if there is something that can change; i.e., level and amount of work to be done, spacing out deadlines, level and type of supervision, training, and development opportunities.