HR employees have so much to worry about, coordinating benefits, managing job searches, making sure all of the employees get their annual evaluations, and countless other tasks. Why should they worry about depression in the workplace, on top of all of that? According to recent research, depression is a nefarious beast that could be sapping your organization’s productivity, one hour at a time.
According to Dr. Debra Lerner, the director of the Tufts Medical Center on Health, Work, and Productivity, depression is consistently one of the top five reasons for productivity loss in the workplace. All told, Lerner says depression costs the U.S. approximately $44 billion in lost worker productivity each year, either through calling in sick or being present but not fully functional, a problem called presenteeism. Because of this, according to Dr. Di Ann Sanchez, the Founder and President of DAS HR Consulting LLC, “HR practitioners have to be concerned about whether [depression] affects major life activities and the ability to get the job done.”
So how should an HR professional deal with depressed workers? One answer to the problem is to assist them in getting the help they need. Sanchez notes that “Employee assistance programs can help find out what type of depression is in their workplace and work that into wellness programs.”
Telephone counseling can be an excellent tool to add to wellness programs, according to Lerner’s research. In her study, she found that workers who received telephone counseling saw a marked reduction in their symptoms. There was a 51% drop in mean depression symptoms, along with a 44% drop in presenteeism and a 53% drop in absenteeism. Of course, the question is how much is the cost? According to Lerner’s research, for every dollar spent on the telephone counseling program, the organization saw $6.19 in increased productivity.
Another way to increase happiness in the workplace, Sanchez says, is to increase employee engagement. “Happiness involves other elements in life besides work,” Sanchez points out, “But engaged employees are happy employees.” To better engage employees, organizations can solicit their feedback more. “Employee surveys are terrific,” Sanchez says, “and I’m liking some of the new survey information that’s coming out where there’s one question a week to all of the employees. ‘What was your big win this week and why did that make you happy?’”
HR practitioners need to be better aware of the impact of depression on their workers. Wellness programs should include treatment for depression to decrease the symptoms of the disease while increasing employee productivity. As a final note, if an HR professional believes that employee depression is only a problem for other companies, the statistics prove otherwise. The National Institute for Mental Health’s research shows that 6.9% of adult Americans suffer from at least one depressive bout each year.