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When depression shows up in the workplace

Opinion & Analysis
Employers and governments have a responsibility to promote and protect all people’s mental health at work.

DEPRESSION is one of the most common mental health disorders globally. It’s important to know that  depression is not just about having a bad day. It can be more serious and negatively affects how a person feels, thinks and acts as it affect the ability to function well at home and at work. Depression, left untreated, may have a significant impact on work performance. It’s a fact that it can also contribute to presenteeism, employees at work but not engaged, and absenteeism,  employees missing days of work. It may impact multiple areas of employee performance that will in turn affect the company.

Why hold depression discussions at workplaces  

People spend so much time at work, it is important for workplaces to understand depression and what to do when an employee is depressed. Depression is a common disorder in people that are employed, in the same way it is for people who are unemployed or retired. Employed people with depression will feel exhausted, but it is important to understand that working conditions alone did not cause their depression. Most often, it is not the workplace, but the depressive disorder, that makes them feel this way. Workplaces can also contribute towards recovery from depression, by creating a non-stigmatising environment for example. With some basic knowledge and competency about depression, workplaces can recognise symptoms, adapt working conditions accordingly (if needed) and support help-seeking behaviour of those depressed.

What is workplace depression?

The first step towards managing workplace depression is understanding what it is and what might have caused it. Depression is a complex issue and many individuals who experience it can feel different symptoms at different times.

The most common signs of depression are a lack of energy, low mood, decreased focus, feeling worthless and helpless at work and generally not being able to find pleasure in the things you love including your job itself. While it can be easier to spot depression for some people it can be very difficult to identify the signs and realise they need support. This is even truer in the workplace where we are much less likely to be open about our feelings and have honest discussions about our mental health issues.

Signs of workplace depression

Depression in the workplace can be invisible and go undetected. However, there are noticeable signs that could initiate a conversation. Perhaps an employee may be been coming late to meetings or missing them entirely, or someone may be absent more than they are supposed to be in the office? If so, it may be time to delve a little deeper. But keep in mind that signs of depression vary based on the individual and situation. If you feel depressed when working, you’re not alone. Sadness, anxiety, loss of motivation, difficulty in concentrating, unexplained bouts of crying, and boredom are just a small sampling of the things you may be feeling if you’re experiencing depressive symptoms at work.

Dealing with depression in the workplace

Depression doesn’t respect your work hours, and it can be tough to get through a workday when you’re feeling low. If you find that depression is affecting your work life, there are many things you can do to gain a bit of motivation, rest, throughout the day. Firstly recognise your symptoms by  identifying where the problem areas are. Once you know what the problems are, you can set mini-goals and make an action plan to get through the day. Since depression saps your energy, motivation, and interest, it’s important to identify things in your job or work setting that bring you either some enjoyment or feelings of accomplishment. In actual fact discussions of mental health and depression are inseparable, organisations must normalise discussing mental health issues because by so doing they are also dealing with depression.

The duty of the employer on employee depression

Employers have a duty of care towards their employees. Everyone has the right to a safe and healthy working environment. Work can be a double-edged sword when it comes to mental health or depression. Much can be done to prevent depression at work but at the same time, it can also worsen depression in some people. Employers must walk a thin line while managing depression at work. 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.

Promoting and supporting wellbeing issues at work

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 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 them 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.

Create an 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 the stigma around mental health at workplaces. This requires employers to create a culture that supports inclusivity, and 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 working environment can reduce depression

Workplaces can be places of both opportunity and risk for mental health. On the one hand, workplaces that promote good mental health and reduce stress not only enhance mental and physical health but are also likely to reduce absenteeism, improve work performance and productivity, boost staff morale and motivation, and minimise tension and conflict between colleagues. So action to protect and promote mental health in the workplace can be cost effective. Employers and governments have a responsibility to promote and protect all people’s mental health at work.

Run mental health and wellbeing initiatives and regular meetings

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. Smart employers know that organisations perform better when staff are healthy,motivated and focused. Organisations must develop a mental health strategy. A clear policy should set out how the organisation will promote wellbeing for all staff, tackle the causes of work-related mental health problems and support staff experiencing them. Creating proactive options that help people improve and maintain their mental health is key to helping employees flourish as far as mental health and wellbeing are concerned.

Depression is a complex condition which is characterised by a varied manifestation of thoughts, feelings, and behaviour that can affect anyone and everyone, and a variety of work and non-work-related factors might be at play.

  • Emmanuel Zvada is an award-winning global HR practitioner and the managing consultant for 3rdeye Africa Consulting Group Zimbabwe and Namibia. For comments inbox or call +263771467441


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