DEPRESSION is not just about having a bad day. It can be more serious and negatively affect how a person feels, thinks and acts, decreasing their ability to function well at home and work.

Depression, left untreated, may have a significant impact on work performance. It contributes to employees being at work, but not engaged, and absenteeism. It may also adversely impact multiple areas of employee performance, including focus and decision making, time management, completing physical tasks, social interactions, and communication.

What is depression and what causes it?

Depression is a complex disease that can be driven by a combination of things, including medical, emotional and genetic factors, as well as environmental, situational and even seasonal issues. The workplace may be just one of these factors. If you already battle with depression, then it’s possible you are also dealing with depression at work.

Depression describes a range of symptoms from a period of low spirits that makes coping with normal tasks harder, to life-threatening thoughts and behaviours that can make it impossible to function properly. Someone experiencing depression may find it difficult to be motivated to complete tasks including seemingly simple things like getting to work on time.

Depression, mental health issues at workplaces

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While a job may not cause depression, the environment may worsen symptoms for people who already live with depression. Any workplace or job can be a potential cause or a contributing factor to depression depending on the level of stress and available support at the workplace. Depression is both common and serious, affecting different people in different ways.

In addition to the commonly recognised symptom of low mood, less understood are the cognitive symptoms of depression; for instance, lack of concentration, indecisiveness or forgetfulness. Depression has an impact on business directly through increased absenteeism, accidents and employee turnover, as well as decreased productivity and performance, hence it is key to have discussions concerning it.

Signs of depression at work

Many people spend their working life at work, so it’s important to determine if we have the safest and healthiest workspace for people.

Depression in the workplace can be invisible and go undetected. However, there are noticeable signs that could initiate a conversation. Signs of depression at work are similar to general depressive symptoms and they affect your level of functioning in your job as well as at home.

Examples include missing work and having indiscriminate off days or having trouble concentrating at work. When you are depressed, you can miss deadlines and fail to get work done or complete tasks as intended.

Feelings of depression only when at work

Depression tends to affect people in their prime working years and may last a lifetime if untreated. It could be that your workplace is the cause of depression. If you are largely overcome with depression while at work, but not as much elsewhere, it could be that feelings of depression are driven by your job.

Serious workplace issues like harassment, discrimination, abuse and bullying can eventually lead to feelings of depression, if left unaddressed. When you are depressed you feel fatigue and lack of energy all the time.

Dealing with depression at work

If you are dealing with depression at work, try these tips. They are not intended as a cure, but could help provide ways to better cope. Staying quiet is not beneficial to the employee or the employer. It is up to human resources (HR) to lead the way in creating a culture that supports people and their healthcare needs, including depression struggles.

Here are several simple, yet effective ways to transform workplace culture and create an environment supportive of mental health:

Acknowledge that depression is real

Possibly the first step to manage depression in the workplace is acknowledging it. Come to terms with how you are feeling and probably accept that you are feeling so. It is not an easy thing to think about, or to come to terms with, but accepting you are depressed is important for managing depression at work and elsewhere. Depression will likely not just go away by itself. It is important that you find a professional you can connect with and feel safe talking to.

Good mental health at work and good management go hand in hand and there is strong evidence that workplaces with high levels of mental wellbeing are more productive.

Many organisations currently fall short when it comes to supporting employee mental health and wellbeing. There are, however, several ways to do so that not only help to create a mentally healthy environment but also a workplace that employees want to fully participate in. Here are some simple things that organisations can do to create a mentally healthy workplace:

Promoting, supporting wellbeing

There is no doubt that improving employee wellbeing is beneficial to any organisation and wellbeing should be considered part of an employer’s ethical responsibility particularly when we consider how prevalent mental health issues are. A company that prioritises health and wellbeing in the workplace will not only reduce absenteeism, but will also attract and retain talent, improve productivity and boost morale.

There are small steps that organisations can take to ensure wellbeing is a priority in their employees’ day to day working lives and one of it is simply promoting and supporting wellbeing issues at work. Improving employee wellbeing must be a priority, and employers should be considerate about how their wellbeing strategy builds on and aligns to their health and safety policy.

Open, inclusive caring culture

As with any facet of company culture, creating and encouraging a sense of belonging in your workplace begins at the leadership level. Employees need to believe that their organisation provides a positive and inclusive working environment and trust that they will be provided with the support they need. Otherwise, it may be difficult to break down the stigma around mental health at workplaces.

This requires employers to create a culture that supports inclusivity, then champion that culture daily. On the same note, it should be made clear  that any mental health and wellbeing issue employees wish to discuss will always be treated with confidentiality, respect and understanding, never intolerance.

Healthy work environment

The work environment is known to have a significant impact on employee mental wellness, productivity, job turnover and overall profits. Leaders can influence a healthy workplace environment by having an open-door policy, keeping employees informed of developments, departmental changes, business goals and policies. These provide direction, build trust and reduce employee stress.

There are also top-down policy changes that may benefit your workforce, including flex time so employees can get exercise and attend to personal needs, while also completing a full day of work, and work-from-home options, whether it is a full move to a home office or one or two days per week.

Be an empathetic HR leader

Dealing with depression is challenging for both the sufferer and those who contact them. As a result, you should also know how engaging with a depressed employee may affect you.

First, remember this is not about you at all. This is about how you, as a leader, may assist your employee. Remember that depression is a medical condition and, in most situations, limited by time. By helping a depressed employee, you assist your team, your organisation and demonstrate excellent leadership. Depression is more likely to negatively impact work performance if sufficient planning and adjustments are not made in time. As a leader, it’s your obligation to foster a healthy work atmosphere that benefits all employees, including those who are depressed.

Work-life balance issues

When we think of mental health, we usually think about conditions like anxiety and depression, but there is more to being mentally healthy than not suffering from a specific condition.

The stresses and pressures of balancing work with the demands of your personal life can often result in employees feeling overwhelmed or even cause them to burnout. Ensuring that a positive balance is promoted by implementing effective practices to combat stress.

Stress and overworking can all lead to mental health challenges and can resultantly lead to serious performance issues. This is why you should focus on establishing a healthy work-life balance for all of your employees

Depression and workplace productivity can significantly counteract each other. This is a common challenge for many people suffering from depression at workplaces. Employers suffer too.

The estimated cost, due to loss of productivity related to depression and its effects, is in the billions of dollars hence managing depression should be a norm and a continuous process in organisations.

  • Emmanuel Zvada, writing here in his own capacity, is a human capital consultant and an international recruitment expert. For comments inbox to  or call +263771467441.