At any given time in the United States, an estimated 1 in 10 adults report symptoms that would qualify for a depression diagnosis.[1] For HR, navigating employee mental health can be tricky. Not all symptoms are noticeable, but a few hidden indicators can hinder overall productivity.

Procrastination and missed deadlines. A person’s day-to-day ability to plan, execute and complete tasks can be affected by depression. This can present itself in the workplace in the form of projects that aren’t completed, or sometimes, not even started.  

Difficulties with memory and learning. Many people with depression report feeling as though they’re unable to remember things they used to recall with no problem. Job tasks and routine processes become a burden as the employee tries to do something that used to come easily. Frustrations can mount, exacerbating the problem.

Team morale. Not all depressed employees look “depressed.” Some may manage to put on a “game face” at work while experiencing lagging productivity and decreased motivation. This game face may make it more difficult for co-workers to realize an employee is suffering. Rather than see someone in need of help, co-workers instead see a co-worker who isn’t pulling his or her own weight. This can have a dramatic impact on the morale and productivity of others.

Create a preventive culture

Referring employees to available resources, such as an employee assistance program, can help some at-risk or affected employees. But in other instances, this approach may not be enough. Employers should consider ways to create a company culture that can help identify and mitigate the effects of depressed employees. Keep these considerations in mind to build a supportive culture:

Improve communication throughout your company. Encourage your HR team and managers to engage in face-to-face communication with employees. This will enhance trust and help employees not feel isolated or alone during an illness.

Invest in training. Help equip managers to handle emotionally charged conversations and ways to identify at-risk employees.

Be flexible with your intervention methods. Hopefully, your organization already has a process for assessing issues and intervening when an employee has a health problem. But remember, approaches such as fit-for-duty assessments may not work well when dealing with an emotional health issue. Be prepared to adjust as needed.

By noticing and understanding the hidden impacts of depression, and working to develop office policies that include support and early intervention for employees struggling with mental health conditions, employers can have a very noticeable impact on the overall health and productivity of their workplaces.



[1]Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. An Estimated 1 in 10 U.S. Adults Report Depression. Available at: http://www.cdc.gov/features/dsdepression/. Accessed February 19, 2014.

Jeff Guardalabene, PsyD, is a mental health case manager with Standard Insurance Company.

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