Psych Central

Workplace Depression

By Scott Wallace, Ph.D., R.Psych.

Workplace depression is an area of increasing concern. When an employee is depressed, it can affect not only that employee’s productivity and happiness, but the entire mood of his or her co-workers and their productivity too. Luckily, depression in the workplace is not inevitable or hopeless. Steps can be taken to help someone who is depressed at work.

A Happy Workplace

For most of us, work provides structure to our day, the opportunity to socialize, a sense of accomplishment, and a source of happiness. In other words, work can reduce the likelihood of becoming depressed.

Despite this, there are circumstances in which work is less than beneficial to well-being. Although there is little evidence that poor working conditions causes depression, unreasonable work conditions combined with other problems, such as difficulties at home or unhappy events, can contribute to depressed mood.

Some of the common workplace conditions needed to ensure happy and healthy employees are:

  • Good working conditions (adequate levels of light, clean air, minimal noise, comfortable temperature)
  • Jobs that offer an opportunity to use and develop skills
  • Jobs that offer variety and some input into the design and/or creation of the work
  • Supportive bosses (i.e. people who do not bully or criticize)
  • Clear performance expectations and support to meet these expectations

So what happens when an employee is depressed at work?

Employers: Catch it early

Most employees that suffer untreated depression are doing so because they fear retribution or loss of their job if they report their problems. As well, many do not recognize that depression is treatable. Yet, as many as 80% of these people can be treated successfully and will miss little, if any, time from work.

As a manager, your responsibility is to meet the needs of the business. If personal problems are impairing an individual’s ability to perform their workplace duties, you need to support the individual to get help for themselves. It is not your responsibility to diagnose depression but it is your responsibility to identify problems that are interfering with work performance and deal with them. This may mean referring the employee to the company employee assistance program, if you have one, the occupational health department, or human resources.

Early intervention on your part will allow more effective treatment. You can be even more helpful by allowing time off from work if this is medically necessary and ease the employee’s return to work by modifying work demands and expectations, if possible. It is also important to look at the work environment, itself, to ensure that you are providing healthy workplace conditions and not contributing to the stress levels of your employees.

Employees: Helping yourself

If you are employed and feeling depressed, seek advice. Your company may have resources to help you (e.g., an employee assistance counselor, a human resources department) or you can seek outside help (e.g., family doctor). Whatever you do, don’t stop working completely. Do whatever you are capable of doing, even routine tasks. Doing nothing, and resting in bed, will only complicate your feelings of worthlessness and contribute to your depressed mood.

Do you think a friend or co-worker is depressed? If you see some of these signs, talk with the person and encourage them to seek help.

  • fatigue
  • unhappiness
  • excessive forgetfulness
  • irritability
  • propensity for crying spells
  • indecisiveness
  • lack of enthusiasm
  • withdrawal

You will know whether or not to help someone if you notice their depressed mood continues unabated for weeks, they don’t appear to enjoy their usual interests, or if they have a sense of gloom about them.

 

APA Reference
Wallace, S. (2007). Workplace Depression. Psych Central. Retrieved on April 20, 2014, from http://psychcentral.com/lib/workplace-depression/0001289
Scientifically Reviewed
    Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 30 Jan 2013
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