What to Do If You Have an Employee with Depression
Potential Work Accommodations for Depression
Mike has always showed up to the office about ten minutes late, but he has consistently made up his time in the same day, so it has not been an issue. Recently though, Mike has started showing up later and later in the day, and still leaves at 5 PM. Although he has never been an outgoing person, his morale has been down while at work and he has started acting more irritable around coworkers and refuses to cooperate with his team. His cubicle neighbor caught him falling asleep while at his desk this week, he entirely forgot about the last weekly meeting, and he has started to fall behind schedule on projects. Some employers may just write off Mike as being rude, lazy, and in need of a performance improvement plan. Other employers may have recognized some of Mike’s behavior as common signs of depression.
According to one study, about 6.7% of American adults suffer from depression, so there is a strong chance that at some point in your career, you will likely either notice that an employee is showing symptoms of depression, or have an employee disclose to you that they are currently suffering from it. The question is: what should you do if you find that you have an employee, or multiple employees on your team, suffering from depression?
Address Your Concerns and Be Proactive
If you notice that Mike’s work is slipping, schedule a private meeting with him to talk about what you have noticed around the office. Acknowledge that you know this new behavior is not typical of him, explain that he is a valued member of the team, and clarify that you just wanted to have this meeting to address the decline in performance and check if there was anything that could be done to help. You are not a doctor, so avoid jumping to conclusions, or even trying to diagnose the issue. Be diplomatic and keep the conversation focused on what specific items you have witnessed recently and his performance as a whole. More times than not, employees may not be aware that they have depression, and having this conversation may be the first time that they acknowledge that something could be wrong. You can find more information here on how to best structure this meeting.
It Is Okay to Care, but Do Not Be Nosy
As a person, you may genuinely care about your team and worry when you notice that an individual, such as Mike, starts acting differently or seems down. However, as an employer, you may legally be restricted on what you can and cannot ask Mike about his personal life. When it comes to illness, both mental and physical, it is important to be sensitive to your employee’s situation without being nosy. You would not ask an employee what medications they are currently taking, which doctor they are going to, or what upcoming surgery they have scheduled. The same can be applied to mental health. There is a delicate balance between caring about Mike’s health and just being intrusive, especially when it comes to HR law. If you have an employee suffering from depression, you should strive to be supportive without being pushy.
Be an Ally to Your Teammate
Mental health can be a sensitive subject, and Mike’s mental health is his own private business. Unfortunately, there is still a stigma associated with mental health and depression, which causes people to often make assumptions about individuals suffering from mental illness. Do not become the office gossip by sharing Mike’s personal information with everyone else in the company. Treat Mike with respect, and do not belittle him by automatically assuming that he is no longer capable of doing his job, or suggesting that he needs you to dote over him. Show Mike that you care by asking if there is anything you can do to help, and discuss potential arrangements to make his work easier. Most importantly, show Mike that you care about his wellbeing by checking in on him periodically, and being a great listener if he does want to talk. If you are worried about saying the wrong things, here is a list of comments to avoid when you have an employee that suffers from depression.
Offer to Make Reasonable Accommodations
The symptoms a person may have with depression changes from individual to individual. Therefore, we will consider common symptoms of depression and address potential accommodations that could help with each one. Some of these may work for your employee and your workspace, while others may not be as feasible depending on their line of work or the office space.
- If Mike has trouble staying focused while at work, offer to move him to another part of the building that is quieter or has less distractions. If moving Mike is not possible, perhaps considering getting a white noise machine for his cubicle or noise-canceling headphones. Do employees need to walk by Mike’s desk to use the copier, or drop off paperwork with him? You could always move the copier or paper tray to another part of the building so that Mike’s train of thought is not interrupted periodically throughout the day by others.
- We previously had an article on practicing mindfulness with tips and tricks for how a person can include some of the elements of mindfulness while at work. Perhaps you could alter Mike’s schedule by allowing him to take more 15- or 30-minute breaks in the day to take a nap or practice some stress relief exercises, on the condition that he just stays later to make up the extra time.
- Not everyone is most productive between the hours of 8 AM – 5 PM. Some people may find that they work better from 10 AM – 7 PM. If Mike is having an attendance or tardiness issue, offer to reschedule his hours so that he can come to the office later in the morning. If leaving the house is the problem, see if you can allow Mike to work from home for part of the day or even for part of the week.
- If Mike is having memory issues offer to provide tools that can help. Some people find that writing things out and staying organized helps them while at work, so providing Mike with a white board, large weekly planner, or even a desk organizer may be beneficial.
- We have previously discussed the importance of knowing when to say “no” to more work to protect your mental and physical health. If Mike feels stressed from his workload, consider working with him to delegate some of his responsibilities to others on the team. At times like this, having a balanced team is essential so that you can easily split up one or two tasks between multiple people on the team.
- If Mike expresses that he is feeling overwhelmed with large projects, consider breaking down his work into smaller projects and just have him focus on completing one step at a time.
- You may want to consider investing in lights or even a lamp that mimic natural sunlight if your office building is dark or has relatively no natural light.
- Did we miss a symptom on this list? The Job Accommodation Network has more information on this topic at their website.
There are many types of depression that exist, and it can look and act differently for every single person. Sometimes depression is situational and is more of a stress-related short-term illness. Other times, depression is an ongoing illness that a person has been battling with for years and they are having a more difficult time with it than usual. If you want more advice on how to manage an employee with depression, then you should check out the Harvard Business Review’s article, here.