Depression in the Workplace

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As a supervisor, you may notice that some employees seem less productive and reliable than usual. They may call in sick, arrive late or seem less interested in work. These workers may be suffering from a condition called clinical depression. While it is not your job as a supervisor to diagnose depression, it may help to understand more about it. 

Clinical depression affects the total person — body, feelings, thoughts and behaviors — and comes in various forms. Some people have a single bout of depression, others suffer recurrent episodes. Still others experience bipolar disorder, sometimes called manic-depressive illness, with moods alternating between depressive lows and manic highs. 

In the workplace, symptoms of depression may be recognized by decreased productivity, morale problems, lack of cooperation, safety risks/accidents, absenteeism, statements about being tired all the time, complaints of aches and pains, alcohol and drug abuse. 

If an employee talks with you about health problems, including feeling depressed, keep these points in mind: 

  • Do not try to diagnose the problem yourself. 
  • Recommend that any employee experiencing symptoms of depression seek professional consultation through the Employee Assistance Program or another health or mental health professional. 
  • Remember that severe depression may be life threatening to the employee. If an employee makes comments like, “life is not worth living” or “people would be better off without me,” take the threats seriously. Immediately contact the Employee Assistance Program or another specialist and seek advice on how to handle the situation.

What can a supervisor say to a depressed person? We recommend the following as an example: 

I am concerned that you have been late to work recently and aren’t meeting your performance objectives. I would like to see you get back on track. I don’t know whether this is the case for you, but if you have a personal problem, you can speak confidentially to one of our Employee Assistance Program counselors. This service was set up to help employees who are experiencing personal problems. Our conversation today and your appointment with the counselor are confidential. Whether or not you contact this service, you will still be expected to meet your performance goals. 

As a supervisor, you cannot diagnose depression. You can, however, note changes in work performance and listen to your employees’ concerns. Please feel free to call us for suggestions on how to best approach an employee who is experiencing work problems that may be related to depression.