Depression at work

09 July 2019

Balancing work life and personal life is becoming more difficult than it ever has been - and this can become too much for some employees.

In the modern business world, there are more and more people seeking treatment for depression, stress and anxiety, and you have a duty to support them.

There are steps employers can take to ensure you're helping and supporting your employees as much as they need.

In this guide, we'll discuss what work depression is, the symptoms to look out for, and how you can manage this in your workplace.

What is depression at work?

Depression at work is more than just feeling low or down, it’s a bigger issue. Whilst work may not be the sole cause of an employee's depression, factors at work may lead to their depression becoming worse - especially if it's untreated.

As an employer, you have a responsibility in stopping these factors from arising. Or if they're already there, do everything you can to remove them and make it a happy place to work for all.

It's crucial you understand the cause of depression at work - once understood you can go about making changes.

Different types of depression

Depression is a condition and serious mental health issue that can take many forms. When diagnosed, it falls into one of three categories: mild, moderate or severe depression.

The following are the four types of depression that you need to be aware of:

  • Dysthymia (also known as chronic depression): This form lasts two years or more and it is a persistent disorder.
  • Major depression: This form leads to a loss of interest weight fluctuation and thoughts of suicide.
  • Bipolar disorder: This form has mood episodes which range from extreme highs to extreme lows.
  • Psychotic depression: This form shows major symptoms such as hallucinations, delusions, and paranoia.
  • Seasonal affective disorder (SAD): This form of depression occurs in the colder and darker months of winter.
  • Prenatal depression (also known as antenatal depression): This form occurs during pregnancy.
  • Postnatal depression (PND): The form occurs in the period of time after a child's birth and can affect men and women.

Is depression a disability?

Under the Equality Act 2010, depression is considered a disability if it has a long-term effect on someone's day-to-day life for longer than 12 months.

The act prohibits discrimination of all forms, meaning it's illegal for you to treat an employee suffering from depression or mental health problems differently than you would other members of staff.

To ensure you're managing any employee with depression at work correctly, you first need to understand what it is.

What are the signs and symptoms of depression at work?

As an employer, you have a duty to understand the symptoms of depression and mental health conditions at work.

Once you do this, you can begin to support employees with depression effectively.

The following are signs of suffering from mental health:

  • Decrease in work performance.
  • Lost productivity and focus when it comes to working.
  • Struggling to concentrate.
  • Feeling overwhelmed and stressed when set work.
  • Errors in daily work tasks.
  • Struggling for motivation, a low mood and a loss of interest in their job.
  • Increased lack of sick or absent days.

If you notice an employee showing any of these signs, it may be depression creeping into their work life.

Can you work with a major depressive disorder?

There's simply no right or wrong answer to this. Many employees who are feeling depressed and suffering with their mental health, may simply continue to come to work.

Not everyone will want to show signs of depression - however, this doesn't mean they're not suffering in silence.

Many employees may be present at work whilst suffering, but as an employer - you may notice their work performance is dipping. This may also be the case for remote workers.

A man dealing with depression at work.

Causes and triggers of workplace depression

Below are the main causes of an employee's depression in the workplace.

  • Toxic work environment.
  • Work concerns, such as unmanageable workloads.
  • Being asked to perform tasks which are outside their usual job role.
  • Sudden changes, conflicts or arguments with colleagues or co-workers.
  • Inflexible working hours or having to stay later.
  • Unclear objectives and a clear lack of support from managers.

As well as knowing the causes, you must also understand the signs of depression amongst your employees.

Does home working cause depression?

In the last few years, remote working has become an option for both people around the world and in the UK. As well as the positives it brings - they're also negatives working remotely can have on someone's mental health.

Feelings of loneliness and stress can be heightened whilst homeworking. Especially if the employee lives by themselves and the only interaction, they have with people during the day is through work.

Ensure to check in regularly with any staff working from home and encourage others to check in with their colleagues.

An employee working from home with their laptop.

Managing an employee suffering from depression or mental health

Whilst no one is expecting you to be an expert on mental health or depression - you have a duty of care to your employees to support them if they're suffering.

Below are ways that you can help manage employees with depression or mental health conditions in your workplace. A little thing can go a long way.

Get advice from a mental health professional

It's important to remember that a lot of employees suffering from depression may not speak out. This is often because of a fear for their job security, or they may feel ashamed.

You may not feel you are the best person to offer support, so it's worth speaking to a trained professional in order to seek advice on how best to support employees with major depression.

Doctors may provide you with sufficient resources in helping an employee with managing depression.

Make reasonable adjustments to their working life

For an employee suffering from workplace stress, anxiety or depression - their working life can be a major factor.

By making a small adjustment to their schedule or job role, their feelings of depression and dealing with their condition could improve vastly.

For example, change their working hours slightly so they can attend a therapy session.

Encourage them to receive mental health support

For employees dealing with depression or mental health, speaking to someone about it is one of the major hurdles.

Make sure you don't push them too hard in seeking professional help and treatment but encourage them to find help and talk to someone at their own pace.

Discussing their feelings or symptoms of being depressed with a doctor can go a long way in aiding their recovery.

Be flexible and approachable

This is arguably one of the most important ways you can manage work depression - you must be approachable at all times.

Once an employee has disclosed their mental health condition to you, they must be able to talk with you about it whenever required.

They may find it easier to talk with their employer, rather than their colleagues, family or friends.

Allow time off

You must allow time off for any employees suffering from stress, depression or mental health. Whether they have an appointment or simply can't face work, you should support them rather than discipline or make life even harder for them.

Consider bringing in an employee assistance program

An employee assistance program can be a great way in encouraging employees to discuss any symptoms of work depression and other stresses surrounding their personal and professional life.

Employee programs tend to be free, completely confidential and offer your employees access to licensed therapists and can discuss their feelings surrounding the workplace, including stress and depression.

Bringing in these programs will show your employees that your focus is on them, you show an interest in their wellbeing and you completely support them in the journey.

Create an open environment

Creating an open environment should be essential for all employers. Employees should feel comfortable coming to you to discuss any concerns they have regarding work depression or other symptoms of depression or anxiety they may be feeling.

If a person is suffering from depression at work and you’ve got a happy workplace - they may feel comfortable coming to speak with you. However, remember this isn't always a given.

Get expert advice from Peninsula on depression at work

As an employer, you have a duty of care to all your employees, this includes depression, stress and anxiety.

If you have a person at work who is showing symptoms of depression, such as a lack of motivation - you have a responsibility to support them. Make sure you take every step possible to support your employees and manage anyone suffering from depression.

Peninsula offers you an Employee Assistance Programme, helping you to keep your employee’s recovery and mental wellbeing. Contact us on 0800 051 3687.

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