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Workplace Safety


By April 1, 2012No Comments

At any given time, one in 10 employees suffers from depression. The repercussions of depression in the workplace-in terms of absenteeism and lost productivity-is estimated to run at $52 billion annually. An additional $26 billion is spent on medical care each year for the symptoms of depression. According to employees who suffer from depression, this illness hampers their ability to work effectively in many ways: 83% lack motivation, 82% have difficulty concentrating, 62% find tasks overwhelming, 45% arrive late for work or leave early, 24% experience chronic physical pain, and 20% have difficulty dealing with coworkers.

This data, reported by the University of Michigan Depression Center (UMDC), underscores the impact that employee depression has on a business’s bottom line. The Depression in the Workplace study was conducted through interviews with depressed employees (those having received treatment for depression within the last three years), middle managers, and benefit managers.

According to the study, many businesses think they are addressing the problem of employee depression, yet employees disagree. The good news is that in companies implementing “best practices” for dealing with workplace depression, depressed employees report better control over their disease and, consequently, they become more effective at work.

Half of the employees surveyed said they had been so depressed that they missed work, typically one to three days a month. When depressed, 38% of employees said they couldn’t carry out their normal workplace responsibilities. Surveyed managers placed depression’s impact on employee productivity as greater than that caused by drug or alcohol abuse, heart disease, or diabetes.

Though most of the employees (89%) said they had some type of mental health care coverage, 75% delayed seeking treatment for depression and 36% received only partial treatment. According to the survey, the failure or delay in seeking treatment resulted not from employees’ lack of familiarity with their mental health benefits, but from a concern that their depression might affect their career advancement and how they are viewed at work.

While many of the surveyed businesses felt that they were taking steps to help depressed employees deal with their illness, these steps were not necessarily a reality for employees:

  • 83% of benefit managers said their companies had taken steps to ensure that employees with depression receive help, but only 37% of the businesses had conducted proactive depression education programs;
  • 65% of the benefit managers said that employees have access to an employee assistance program (EAP), but only 14% of the surveyed employees ever contacted the EAP; and
  • 78% of benefit managers agreed that lost productivity cost their businesses more than treating the depression would, but only 11% of the businesses offered depression screenings.

The survey identified a number of “best practices” that companies can implement to help employees deal with depression. These included providing access to appropriate outpatient care; providing information that enables employees to identify symptoms of the disease and the importance of seeking treatment; offering screening/early detection mechanisms; having guidelines for job accommodation that enable afflicted employees to seek treatment; providing supervisors with training on dealing with the issue; and having return-to-work plans for employees who have been absent due to the disease.

Employees of companies that utilized such best practices reported higher levels of job satisfaction and were less likely to view their illness as a barrier to career advancement. Also, among employees who received treatment, 88% said their effectiveness at work improved as a result.

Given the cost of depression-both on its victims and their employers’ business interests-the identified best practices represent compassionate and smart workplace measures.