HR Mavericks

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Depression in the Workplace
Depression in the workplace is not conquered by telling someone to “just be happy” or “get over it.” Read on to learn about depression in the workplace, the effects it has at work, signs to look out for, the factors that cause depression, and how to combat it.

What Is Depression in the Workplace?

Workplace depression is more than a bad day at the office. Symptoms at work, left unchecked for two weeks or more, can have serious implications on someone's ability to perform. Symptoms include but are not limited to loss of interest in activities previously enjoyed, difficulty concentrating, not eating, eating too much, trouble sleeping, restless pacing, feelings of worthlessness, and thoughts of self-harm. This article should not be used to diagnose clinical depression. This article should be used to support employees who are not having a great experience at work and may be at risk of depression.

What Are the Effects of Depression in the Workplace?

Depression has a significant impact on the workplace and the employee's performance and impacts the individual, their team, and the business as a whole.
  • Presenteeism. Employees with depression may come to work but mentally be somewhere else—unengaged in their work or with their colleagues around them. It impacts not only performance but relationships with managers and colleagues.
  • Absenteeism. Many of the symptoms of depression result in fatigue. Employees suffering from depression may find it difficult to get out of bed and choose to stay home from work. Their absence affects workflow, and their team may need to cover for them. Frequent absences can result in resentment toward the employee and ruin positive culture among the team.
  • Productivity. Depression limits the employee's ability to function. Productivity will decline if the illness continues over an extended period of time.
  • Increased costs. In addition to production costs, employees who receive treatment for depression will increase the costs the company pays for the treatment.
Mental Health America reported that Left untreated, depression is as costly as heart disease or AIDS to the US economy, costing over $51 billion in absenteeism from work and lost productivity and $26 billion in direct treatment costs.

Signs of Depression in the Workplace

What are the warning signs that employees at your organization may be working while depressed?


Employees feel tired all the time. You may notice them dragging their feet or as reluctant to smile when they see their friends/colleagues at work.

Missing in Action

Consistently calling in to say they are taking time off work may be a warning flag. The reasons can vary from being sick or being out of town.

Lack of Focus

Depression can bring brain fog in which employees are unable to focus on any task for a period of time. The employee may constantly walk away from their desk or seem distracted.

Missed Deadlines

They never missed that deadline in the past, but now have missed it multiple times and forgotten a weekly meeting.

Depressed Only at Work

These employees seem happy outside of work but feel depressed as they walk into the office in the morning. They may report great things happening in their personal lives, yet present as possibly depressed at work.

Factors That Cause Depression in the Workplace

The factors we will discuss may not seem to be connected to depression. However, if these factors are left unchecked, depression can follow.

Feeling Trapped

Feeling trapped at work can come from several sources that increase the chances of depression.
  • Unclear future possibilities. Depressed employees may have just started the job or have been in the same position for years, but if they don’t see a clear career path, depression can happen.
  • The wrong fit. Feeling trapped in a job that doesn't fit is miserable and can lead to mental or physical illness.
  • Family guilt. Employees may have a spouse or family at home to support. This fact may cause them to feel forced to work to keep a roof over their heads and be able to feed their family.
  • The job changed. Employees who are passionate about their jobs may suddenly not enjoy their job for multiple reasons. It can seem daunting to change employers, so they end up feeling trapped.

Financial Concerns

Employees that have been passed over for promotions or salary raises one or more times can be frustrated if they accomplished everything in order to get that raise or promotion. Once frustration dissipates, depression may set in.

Toxic Work Environment

Workplace bullying and office gossip often go unchecked because the victims do not report it. If employees are constantly feeling worthless or victimized at work due to others' actions, this can lead to depression.

No Recognition

If employers fail to recognize employees for their contributions or tell them their work is appreciated, morale decreases and can lead to workplace depression.

How to Address Depression in the Workplace

Depression in the workplace can be as disastrous as harassment or office gossip. This section discusses tips to address depression in the workplace.

Step 1: Learn About the Disorder

Colleagues and managers may be caught off guard when an employee opens up to them about struggling with depression and/or depressive symptoms. Training managers and interested employees on this disorder will prepare them to respond with empathy and also to consider depression as a possible cause of performance issues.

Step 2: Give Workplace Flexibility

Flexibility can signal great support. Trouble sleeping and difficulty getting out of bed is a symptom of depression. If possible, you can try to accommodate this by setting up a plan of core hours or core days they must be in the office and providing more flexibility at other times. You can also support absence for treatment sessions (which is also covered under FMLA, if the employee is covered by it).

Step 3: Simplify Projects

Employees with depression can easily get overwhelmed by large projects. Managers and HR should partner to break down these responsibilities into smaller tasks, allowing the employee to still continue to the team's success.

Step 4: Focus on Positive Outcomes

Criticism only amplifies depression. Train your managers to understand the need for positive motivation and affirmation. This serves as a much better motivator than the typical manager mindset of “You need to do this or else.”
Ryan Archibald

Ryan Archibald

Ryan is an HR Director with four years of experience and three masters degrees. One accomplishment he is proud of is the design and launch of a learning and development program for 800+ employees.
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