What do you think are the most common causes for loss of productivity at work? Illness? Poor time management? Facebook?
One of the biggest causes could also be the most harmful, costly, and hardest to spot.
Businesses are wising up to not just the personal cost of depression, but also how much it can affect productivity.
The business cost of depression
As well as being one of the most damaging illnesses a person can suffer, depression is one of the top 5 reasons behind workplace productivity loss, and costs the US as much as $44 billion dollars a year, according to Debra Lerner, the director of the Tufts Medical Center Program on Health, Work and Productivity.
In fact, she says the illness can reduce a person’s workplace performance by up to a third.
Thankfully, according to Auckland-based Sara Chatwin, registered psychologist at life performance specialists Mind Works, we’re seeing a shift in how businesses approach the illness.
“I think more employers and businesses are aware of this cropping up in the workplace, and a lot of people are very interested in making the work environment as pleasant as possible for both employers and employees,” Sara says.
“This has really been heightened over the past 5-10 years but I think we’re got a way to go before we really recognise the sheer numbers of people who go through this.
Why should businesses do this?
The study done by Debra Lerner found that 8 telephone-based counselling sessions over 4 months for sufferers of depression saw a 51% drop in symptoms, and absenteeism from work dropped 53%.
“At the end of the day,” Sara says “employers expect a good job from their employees, and if they have people who are working well in their roles usually, it’s worthwhile investing a little time and energy at keeping people happy and in as good a space as possible.
“Good employees are a precious commodity, and the happier and the healthier the employee is, the employer would certainly notice benefits.”
The warning signs of depression
But as people are often not inclined to talk about their depression, it’s important employers and colleagues know how to spot someone suffering in silence.
“For any mood disorder like depression you look for changes in people’s behaviour,” Sara says. “So a person who used to be quite animated that all of a sudden goes quiet or withdraws, that may be a warning sign something is going on.
“Mood changes, people reacting to things badly or not wanting to become involved, people that are lethargic, people that are withdrawn, people that don’t want to mix in, people that are irritable, distractible, there’s a whole lot of behavioural changes and symptoms that can be associated with depression.”
And just because someone doesn’t have a history of depression, doesn’t mean they are not susceptible.
“A lot of people are not necessarily clinically depressed, they might just have depressive symptoms. It could be a significant life event that triggers depression; such as the death of a parent or a child, or people in Christchurch losing their homes.
“Until we are really aware of what’s going on in people’s lives will we really get to the bottom of this.”
Approaching the issue
Depression is a sensitive issue, and naturally needs to be addressed in a way that both parties are comfortable with.
“As long as people are supportive and can feel they are able to talk about things,” Sara says, “they will cope with situations better.
“For businesses who find a lot of different problems occurring, perhaps they could conduct a few seminars in which these issues are dealt with, encouraging employees to talk about things.
“The first port of call for getting it out on the table is to talk about it.”
The wrong approach
On the flipside, Sara lists some ways NOT to broach the issue.
“Don’t be too confrontational, be aware of the time and the place when you broach these kinds of issues, and allow them some time and space to talk to you about them.
“Certainly don’t do it with their peers around them, take their confidentiality into account, and just be supportive.”