Why Should HR Care About Depression? by @HRTMExec

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.

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  1. Perhaps it’s not so strange that many of us consider work a necessary evil. We are free souls that gather around a particular task. We have dreams, families, interests, expectations and fears. So that we don’t have to sleep on the street or be a burden on others, we struggle to acquire a home, food, clothes and so on. For many of us, the hard reality of everyday life is juxtaposed with our innermost dreams. Our surrounding culture with its instrumental thinking and “Jante law” pitches in too. “Don’t dream now”, “Be realistic”. Somehow, things don’t always work out how we intend, and disappointment forever threatens. Our psychological defences kick in to stop us becoming too hurt. We start to rationalise and convince ourselves that that “childish dream” wasn’t that important after all. “Sour grapes”, we say, stiffen our upper lip and move on. Or we idyllise. “Actually, my life’s good compared to coal miners in Africa.”
    Our defences are many; but the lasting impression I’ve had after ten years as a consultant is that many of us approach our work a little half-heartedly and without much commitment to it
    It is quit depressing!

  2. Jeff Butts

    Christer, thanks so much for your input. It’s absolutely true that not everyone can have a dream job that they look forward to going to every day, and the daily drudgery of having to work the 9-to-5 job can definitely increase the likelihood of depression setting in. That’s why it is so important for HR practitioners to recognize some of the symptoms and the dangers of depression.