Workplace Depression Affects
Employee Morale, Productivity and
By Christopher Knippers, Ph.D.
had a deep, embarrassing secret. She
had been the star employee of the company. Everyone loved her. She was
now a very capable manager. Even
her divorce a couple of years ago hadn’t seemed to affect her.
Lynette was the one who always had a smile, a new idea and tireless
dedication to her department. But
for the past few weeks there was a growing change in Lynette. She
started being late to work, her attitude was negative, and she was
even short-tempered. The quality of Lynette’s work was slipping.
One of her
employees reluctantly approached her privately and asked if everything
was okay but Lynette denied that anything was wrong. Finally, a close
co-worker had noticed Lynette no longer mentioned her ex-husband,
Paul, who was also Lynette’s “best friend,” and asked her about
it. At that, Lynette finally broke into sobs and revealed the secret
she had been keeping. She had secretly hoped since her divorce that
Paul would come back to her, but he had remarried recently.
Since then, Lynette had fallen in to a deep depression.
She could no longer keep her life-long secret of extreme low
self-esteem hidden from the view of others.
of a depressed employee is very typical of how depression affects a
company’s productivity, morale and effectiveness. Depression often
shows up in people and at times that might not be expected. Life’s
challenges sometimes overwhelm people who are already vulnerable for
some pre-existing reason. People who are most vulnerable to having
depression triggered by the typical stressors of life are those who
derive an inordinate amount of their fulfillment in life from either:
anything goes wrong in a relationship for the first type, or if the
second type falls short of his/her own high standards of achievement
and recognition, depression can be triggered.
Management should be aware when dealing with employees who have
a sudden change in:
signs show up, it is likely that you are dealing with the
all-too-common problem of depression in the workplace. Of course, some
of these can be indicative of other problems such as physiological
disorders or chemical dependency; but in any event, management does
need to intervene. It is important to find out what the problem is and
what can be done to correct it.
some things that you can do to be proactive in getting your employee
back on track:
Confront the situation quickly:
A gentle, caring and direct confrontation needs to be made. A
person who the employee knows, trusts, and respects is the ideal
person to make the confrontation. The designated person needs to avoid
sounding at all condescending or authoritarian; but genuine concern
needs to be expressed and specific behaviors need to be directly
One way to
do this is for the person doing the confronting to open with an
admission of their own personal struggles, past or present, and how
that affected their work behavior. Then they can point out to the
depressed person that some specific behaviors have been noticed. But
avoid saying anything like, “Everyone is noticing…” The
depressed person is embarrassed already and doesn’t need to think
that everyone is talking about him or her.
is the mental and emotional attitude of actually entering into another
person’s experience, and standing “beside” them in their
feelings, rather than standing above them in pity, judgment or of
being “above it all.” Empathy says, “I’ve been where you are
emotionally, and I know it’s rough.” This supportive attitude
helps the depressed person immensely because they will no longer feel
alone in their pain.
Listen to their story: Every
depressed person has a story that they are longing to tell, and it is
a huge relief to him or her to know that someone cares to listen to
their life experience. In
fact, when a depressed person hears himself relating his story, he can
often gain a new perspective on the situation, and sometimes he even
realizes a solution.
Provide a solution to the employee:
A counselor needs to be made available at an affordable rate for
that employee. There are some brief forms of therapy or counseling
that are extremely effective. Cognitive therapy is the most highly
respected form of brief therapy today. Medication alone is not the
Offer practical assistance within the workplace:
Maybe there are some ergonomic concerns that can be addressed;
or maybe they need a little temporary assistance with their duties to
get back on track. A day or two off work or temporarily reduced hours
Follow up: An
occasional friendly inquiry about how the person is doing is
appreciated and helps the person feel supported. Support is key to
overcoming and preventing depression.
Create a culture of support:
Assign someone on your staff who can be trusted to listen
non-judgmentally to any concern that an employee has. Very few
employees would abuse such a privilege. Most people do receive
fulfillment from accomplishing quality work. They just sometimes hit
snags in life and need to vent.
can affect a company’s productivity, morale and effectiveness.
Recognizing the signs and understanding what kind of help and support
can be offered will be extremely helpful for dealing with a depressed
employee. A little human kindness and compassion goes a long way
toward attaining your organization’s goals.
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