The Impact Of Depression At Work & How Employers Can Help
Management & Leadership

The impact of depression at work (and how employers can help)

Jul 10, 2018
Mobile Curve
Mobile Curve

Research involving over 1 000 employed and previously employed workers or managers in South Africa shows that depression has a significant impact on the country’s workforce.

Although respondents to a survey conducted by SACAP fieldwork placement centre and the South African Depression and Anxiety Group (SADAG), showed a poor awareness of depression’s cognitive symptoms, 74% of respondents reported experiencing one or more of the following depression symptoms the last time they were depressed: trouble concentrating, forgetfulness, indecisiveness.

Interestingly, less than 20% of the employees who took part in the study associated forgetfulness and indecisiveness with depression, in contrast to sadness or low mood, which the majority identified as a symptom of depression.

Depression’s impact on productivity

When it comes to recognising depression symptoms in the workplace, then, it seems South African workers would mostly look for withdrawal from colleagues, crying and extended sick leave as signs of its presence.

Other key findings from the South African 2015 IDeA (Impact of Depression at Work Audit) Report, which was conducted by SADAG in collaboration with health and economic research organisation Hexor and pharmaceutical company Lundbeck, include:

  • Over half those who have been diagnosed with depression have taken time off work at some point because of their depression;
  • On average, people with depression took 18 days a year off work due to their condition;
  • Only a quarter of managers felt they had very good support in dealing with an employee with depression;
  • 54% of people who experienced depression said they took more time to complete simple jobs, while 50% made more mistakes than usual at work;
  • More than one in 10 didn’t know how to react or what to say to someone with depression;
  • Of those who have taken time off work because of depression, 80% did not tell their employer the reason;
  • Half of managers don’t know how many sick days are due to employees having depression;
  • 85% of adults who gave themselves a top rating (8 to 10) without depression, then gave a performance score of less than 8 when experiencing depressive symptoms;
  • More than 80% of those diagnosed with depression continued to work during their last episode of depression.

What can employers do to help?

These findings highlight the issues of absenteeism in the workplace while ill, as well as continuing to work whilst ill, which then impacts severely on productivity. Says Operations Director of the SADAG, Cassey Chambers: “This is one of the reasons why it’s vital to examine how depression is managed in the workplace and what procedures are in place to ensure that affected employees are encouraged to and supported in seeking treatment.”

Add to the above earlier research conducted by The Mental Health and Poverty Project (MHaPP) which found that psychiatric conditions are ranked third, after HIV, AIDS and other infectious diseases, in their contribution to the burden of disease in this country, and the situation appears even direr.

SADAG suggests the following five ways that companies can help employees with depression:

  1. Educate employees on depression and especially how cognitive symptoms can affect work performance.
  2. Raise awareness of any existing employee assistance programmes and emphasise that they can help with mental health problems, like depression, too.
  3. Promote a culture of acceptance around depression and other psychiatric disorders – they are no different to diabetes or asthma.
  4. Explore creative ways to support an employee’s recovery, like flexible or adjusted working hours or working from home for a while.
  5. If employees share their struggles with depression, refer them to a mental healthcare professional or counsellor and reassure them the illness can be treated.

As the first steps to becoming a counsellor, qualified to treat conditions such as depression, SACAP offers both a Bachelor of Psychology degree as well as a Bachelor of Applied Social Science degree. For more information, enquire now.

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