Thursday, November 14, 2013

Down and Out in the Workplace - The Do's and Don'ts of Dealing With Employee Depression

When you see typically energetic employees begin working at a sluggish pace, do you assume that they have suddenly become lazy sloths? Don't rule out the idea that your workers may be suffering from depression or another emotionally crippling illness. Fortunately, mental sicknesses are just as treatable as physical ones - it just takes time and a little bit of understanding from people like you. Here are the top 10 ways to assist an employee who is suffering from depression:

1. Help employees to continue working, no matter what. Never underestimate the healing powers of productivity and stability. Depressed employees may feel too emotionally drained to show up for work, so it's up to you to encourage your workers not to disconnect from the life routines that will keep them grounded during their period of illness. The worst thing depressed people can do to hinder their own recovery is to withdraw from the activities that once brought them happiness, satisfaction and a purpose for living. Make sure your employees know that they are welcome and needed at work, despite their sometimes sad demeanors!

2. Don't ignore the signs of depression, but react with care and sensitivity. If an employee appears to be melancholy or irritable, you may be tempted to think, "It's none of my business" and simply give the unpleasant person a wide berth. If such behavior persists, don't just ignore it! The mental well-being of your employees IS your business, for both your company's sake and the recovery of the depressed individual. Symptoms of depression, such as lack of concentration, tardiness, sleep deprivation, listlessness or irritation aren't fun for anybody! When approaching an employee who is obviously suffering emotionally, be sure not to attack or criticize. Don't berate the depressed person for "slacking off" - if you are not satisfied with the job performance of your workers, use sensitivity to coax them into talking about what's bothering them. Make sure they know that you honestly care about how they feel, and that you are willing to do whatever it takes to help them on the road to recovery. Depressed or not, your employees are valuable to both you and the organisation!

3. Listen when your employees wish to open up about their depression. No, you probably have not studied psychology, but it doesn't take a doctorate degree to lend a sympathetic ear to a suffering co-worker. Let your workers know that you understand what they are going through. Make yourself available whenever they feel the need to talk... but, in cases of severe depression, you shouldn't hesitate to suggest that your employees also seek out professional medical help (if they haven't already). Be a good listener, but never give the impression that you are qualified to replace a therapist or other trained medical professional. You don't carry a prescription pad, right? Be there when an employee needs help getting through the work day, but know your own limits.

4. Be accommodating towards employees seeking mental health care. Every employer wants their workers to be happy and productive, but what if you must make sacrifices to allow an employee to get help? Do it - you will find that some flexibility now will be well worth your trouble in the long run! Suffering workers may benefit immensely from ongoing treatment for their depression. If it is necessary to adjust your employees' work schedule to allow them time for therapeutic sessions or general recovery, you should be understanding and accommodating. It is in your best interest to keep the people in your organization performing at peak health and productivity levels, and if you work with your employees to help them succeed, they will repay you tenfold in loyalty and dedication.

5. Keep your expectations reasonable. Understand that employees suffering from depression are in some ways just as "crippled" as a man who's broken his legs. Don't expect these workers to operate at the same capacity that they exhibited when they were well. The side effects of depression can easily interfere with job performance, and duties or hours may need to be modified to make the workplace manageable for certain individuals. Remember that it is in everyone's best interest to keep your employees succeeding at their jobs, so don't be shy about discussing productivity issues with your depressed workers. Be sensitive to their needs, and discuss with them any changes that can be made to help them keep their heads above water at work. If it is possible to discuss job modifications with an employee's mental health provider, that might be a good first step.

6. Help your employees succeed through the power of organization. Depressed employees may suddenly find themselves unable to keep track of things and manage their time the same way they could before the illness hit. You can help your workers feel less overwhelmed by providing them the tools they need to best organize their workloads. You can sit down with your employees individually to assist them in creating a schedule, prioritizing tasks, etc., or even provide software that can help them stay on track from day to day when their concentration and enthusiasm begin to wane. Also, it is wise to develop respectful methods of checks and balances to ensure the accountability of your depressed employees.

7. Keep the workplace happy and stress-free. Depressed or not, no employee feels comfortable in an environment full of hostility. People with depression are especially vulnerable in emotional situations, and may be quick to get "stressed out". Be vigilant and watch for signs that your depressed employees may be engaged in conflict with others. Be ready to mediate and protect your emotionally distressed worker - no matter whose "fault" the altercation may be. While employers frequently find themselves playing the role of Peacekeeper, it is even more vital to maintain an amicable workplace when employee depression is part of the picture. Stress only aggravates the symptoms of mental illness, and should be avoided at all costs - even if it means re-assigning or otherwise separating workers who cannot get along.

8. Encourage depressed employees to be open with co-workers. Even in today's society, when so much is known about depression, there is still a certain "stigma" attached to even the most basic forms of mental illness. To protect your suffering employees from the ridicule of others, the first step may be to make sure that all of your workers are well-informed about the "normality" of depression. After all, 1 in 5 Australians struggle with depression every year, according to the latest statistics. Employees who don't feel on top of their game emotionally may try to keep their condition a secret, but this is generally not the best course of action. Respect your employees' wishes, of course, but explain to them that co-workers who understand their illness can be an excellent source of support and helpmates on the road to recovery. Assure your workers that if they are willing to talk with others about their depression and promote awareness, the honesty may also reduce conflicts that could otherwise arise from resentment or misunderstandings.

9. Promote a policy of acceptance to protect your employees. As mentioned above, society does not always view sufferers of mental illness in the best light. Once they are aware of fellow employees' struggles with depression, co-workers may be tempted to talk about these individuals behind their backs, or in a malicious manner. Do not allow this kind of "water cooler gossip"! Along with providing accurate information, the best way to promote acceptance is by setting an example of understanding and sympathy towards your depressed workers. If this isn't enough to prevent cruel words or deeds, you may need to resort to disciplinary action. Make sure your depressed employees know that you will do everything in your power to keep the workplace a "safe" environment - free of gossip and criticism.

10. Support your employees outside the workplace, too. Happiness is, of course, the opposite of depression, and while you hope that your employees are at least content in their jobs, it's probably safe to assume that any true joy is found in pleasurable pursuits outside of the workplace. People with depression are at risk of losing enthusiasm for the activities they once found fun and exciting, so it is important for others to intercede and encourage them to retain their lust for life. As an employer, you can help by being accommodating - to an appropriate level - if your depressed employees request time off for family events or other activities that will lead to recovery. If you can arrange it, it would be fun and morale boosting for ALL of your workers if the company is able to sponsor regular social gatherings outside of the job place. At the very least, show an interest in your employees' personal hobbies, and do your best to help them cope with their depression by making it easy for them to balance their outside life with the obligations of their job.

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