Depression at work

09 July 2019

Good mental health in the workplace is an increasingly important topic for modern businesses. It’s now recognised that having a happy, healthy workforce is beneficial for productivity.

A depressed worker has a higher chance of absenteeism or leaving your business entirely. And if they’re depressed because of work, you may want to consider ways more staff members don’t face the same issues.

As such, it’s good business practice to tackle depression at work. This can take the form of using an employee wellbeing service or making other adjustments at your workplace to limit the amount of stress your employees may be feeling.

This guide explains how to go about this in a productive way that can see your business flourish.

Signs of depression

Before you go about managing employees with depression, first you have to be aware whether any of your workforce is struggling. However, it can be difficult to tell if a member of your staff has any issues.

Depression is a condition that many people can successfully mask. Despite that, there are still signs you can look out for.

These include:

  • No motivation to work.
  • Ongoing concentration issues for consecutive weeks or months.
  • Persistent sleepiness.
  • A lack of enthusiasm.
  • Not engaging with others.
  • An increase in sick days or lateness.
  • Unexpected behaviour, such as overeating or taking up smoking.
  • Presenteeism—overworking themselves to avoid their mental health battle.

Dealing with an employee with depression

When it comes to disclosing depression to employers, staff members may be nervous about doing so. There’s still a social stigma surrounding mental health issues, so some may fear the worst and think it could affect their role in a company.

The reality is we all deal with depression from time to time, although others may have a more persistent underlying health issue such as bipolar disorder. With employee depression in the workplace such a common issue, it’s good business practice to have a process in place to support your workforce.

If an employee has depression, remember that it’s a complex mental health issue that you should handle carefully. Many can battle on through the condition not wanting to complain about it.

That can make them depressed after work, depressed before work, and ultimately struggling to cope. One step to dealing with this is making sure you limit potential triggers of work-related depression in your business.

You can look to:

  • Ensure workloads aren’t excessive.
  • Offer flexible working to improve work-life balance.
  • Provide remote working opportunities to employees who can.
  • Include perks, such as an early finish on Friday, or free fruit.
  • Establish an employee assistance programme (EAP) to support your workforce through difficulties.

Such initiatives can help to make sure your staff don’t become depressed over work, but there are still external factors that can trigger off mental health issues. Bereavement is one example. Money struggles another. Regardless, you should be aware that your staff has rights you must be aware of.

Depression and work rights

If an employee’s depression is due to work, and they become too depressed to go to work, there are laws your business must consider if they request time off work.

In Ireland, the Mental Health Act 2001 and Employment Equality Acts 1998-2015 aim to protect employees from discrimination at work—including when they apply for roles. If an employee feels like they’ve faced prejudice because of their mental health struggles, they can make a complaint to the Workplace Relations Commission (WRC).

Irish law defines discrimination in the workplace as whether a person feels treated less favourably to colleagues. That includes disability, under which depression, stress, and anxiety fall under employment equality legislation. Remember that discrimination can be direct and indirect—the former is more obvious, but many well-meaning businesses can lapse into more subconscious forms of prejudice without meaning to. An employee suffering from depression should be able to share their issues with your business without fear of negative consequences. If they’re suffering depression due to work, you should consider whether your working environment is responsible.

For example, if there are unnecessary dangers or you’re forcing too many responsibilities onto an employee, then it can result in issues such as anxiety, depression, and stress. Your employee can make a claim about these issues, which can result in a costly hearing before the WRC.

You can take steps towards managing depression at work with, as we stated further above, an EAP. Larger businesses can set these up to support a workforce. But for smaller businesses, you may not be able to support such an initiative. Employment equality law also requires employers to make reasonable accommodations to support staff members with disabilities—including potential new hires—with access to employment, advancing their careers, and undertaking training.

Reasonable accommodation practices you should adopt for your business include:

  • Time off for medical appointments that will help their condition.
  • Mentoring at work, which can include peer support from colleagues.
  • Help with a return to work, should the employee have taken time off.
  • Providing flexibility options with work hours for a better work-life balance.
  • Adjusting workloads to meet an employee’s needs.
  • Providing relevant training to make their duties easier.

Some of the above may require you to get advice from the employee’s GP, or occupational health specialist. They’ll be able to advise you on the best course of action.

The benefits of an open office policy 

If your workforce feels confident addressing mental health issues at your workplace, there are long-term benefits for your business.

These include:

  • An increase in trust with your staff.
  • Higher retention rates as happy employees remain with you.
  • Better productivity due to an improved work-life balance.
  • Maintaining clear policies that your staff know will support them through difficult times.

If your staff trusts your policies and is happy coming forward to discuss depressive issues, then it’s more likely they’ll be a happier and more productive employee.

Need our help?

We can help you tackle mental health problems in your business. Call us today for immediate support on 0818 923 923.

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