Managing Depression In The Workplace

No manager can diagnose depression. But every manager can observe changes in behavior and work performance.

Columns From: 1/3/2003 Modern Machine Shop,

No manager can diagnose depression. But every manager can observe changes in behavior and work performance.

Most managers know that depression can seriously affect a worker’s ability to do the job effectively. In fact, depression can be so dreadful that a worker will have to stop work completely for a while. When it is not that bad, most workers will try to keep at it, uneasily aware that they are not doing their jobs as well as they usually do. If workers’ depression can be recognized and helped, they will get back to their normal performance much more quickly, and much needless unhappiness and suffering can be avoided.

Here are some strategies for recognizing and dealing with worker depression.

  • Learn about depression and corporate and community resources. Familiarize yourself with your company’s health benefits. Find out if it has an employee assistance program (EAP) that can provide on-site consultation or refer employees to local resources. If there is no EAP, ask a counselor for suggestions on how to approach a depressed worker.
  • Look for changes in behavior:
  1. Mood swings (anger, sadness)
  2. Proneness to accidents (risk-taking, inattentiveness to detail)
  3. Morale problems (expressions of dissatisfaction with self, the job, co-workers, home life)
  4. Demeanor (alterations in appearance, hygiene, deportment)
  5. Self-medication (substance abuse)
  6. Fatigue (psychosomatic illnesses with complaints of unexplained pains)
  7. Absenteeism (lowered pride in work, decreased productivity)
  • Talk about changes you have observed. Let the worker know that although you expect performance to improve, you realize that he or she may have some personal problems.
  • Shake the grapevine. Are people talking about the depressed worker? It can be helpful in getting the depressed worker to seek professional help if he or she knows that teammates are concerned.
  • Encourage the worker to talk about feelings. Mildly depressed workers often feel better when someone is empathetic, non-judgmental and listens attentively.
  • Recommend that severely depressed workers see a physician, and always take suicide threats seriously. Even severely depressed workers often react positively to professional “talking treatments” (problem solving, cognitive therapy and other forms of psychotherapy) and, of course, antidepressant, non-addictive medication.
  • Set clear guidelines of what you expect from the worker. Be clear about what allowances company policy permits you to make. A depressed worker may need special concessions, such as flex-time while recuperating. Make sure you know the company’s policy so you don’t promise something you can’t deliver. Assure your worker that what is said to you will be kept confidential.

Surprisingly, as with most common illnesses, most depressed people will recover completely and return to work quickly.

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