Depression at Work – How to Deal with it

Written by Steven Marwick
Author

Depression at work is a difficult subject for many people to talk about. It is one of the most common mental health conditions in the UK and affects as many as one in six adults, according to a study by the Office for National Statistics. 

The prevalence of depression has also risen markedly as data from the same survey showed that 10% suffered from it prior to the pandemic but now 17% of adults are experiencing depression. Depression can often be a logical follow-on from impostor syndrome, as people who feel inadequate at their work can often take this feeling to heart and perhaps fail to see the transferable skills that they have. 

Depression at work is a condition that can be difficult to deal with for both the employer and the employee. As an individual employee, you don’t have to divulge anything about any medical conditions that you have to your employer but it may make it harder for you to get the support that you need if you don’t. 

Employees should take the time to understand their rights in relation to their mental health and should ask for any reasonable adjustments that may help them to get back on their feet, and back to an even keel once more. One of the most obvious that comes to mind is working remotely vs in the office, as they would cut out a commute. 

Depression at Work From an Employer’s Perspective

Clinical depression can take a real toll on the ability of an employee to accomplish work tasks and it can be hard to know how to help them through the worst of their depression. It may be obvious to everyone else that someone is struggling with depression but it is not always an easy thing for employers to ask about specific mental health conditions. 

The employees are also under no obligation to tell you if they are suffering from depression and in some cases may resent being asked. Sometimes mental health conditions are considered to be non-visible disabilities and you should be prepared to support your employees however you can.

Helpful Steps for Employers

Ask One to One about Depression at Work

If you are going to broach the subject with your employee, it is always best to ensure that you are doing so on a private, one-to-one basis. This means they are far more likely to open up and talk to you about what is going on with them. They may not tell you, and this is entirely acceptable but try to let them know that you are there for them if they would like to talk at any point. They may not ever take you up on it, but feeling that they at least have the option can be comforting. 

Share Relevant Experiences

If you are someone who has had their own mental health struggles in the past, feel free to share your own experiences. Many people who are struggling with depression feel very alone, and hearing that you are doing better and have found a way through it may encourage them to keep going as well. 

Signpost to Help

Let them know that there are resources available for people who are struggling with their mental health. Signpost them to a list of resources and ensure that this is up to date. Do your best to reassure them that they are a valued member of the team and assure them you are only asking out of concern for their wellbeing. 

Problems Associated with Depression at Work

Presenteeism

The word presenteeism is one that has been used to describe when someone with depression comes into work when they really shouldn’t be there. While they are physically there, they are completely unengaged with everything and everyone around them. This can obviously be a problem as they may struggle to complete the workload that they should be taking care of. 

The main reason behind presenteeism is that people can be afraid for their job security and feel the need to show a willingness to work, even when they would be better off being at home and taking the time they need to recharge in a comfortable and familiar environment. This is obviously heightened at times of economic uncertainty and coming out of the pandemic, many people will be in this situation. 

Absenteeism

Many people who are suffering from depression will be off work more often than normal and will struggle to make it to work regularly. Depression can sap all energy and it can be hard for people with this medical condition to get out of their beds on particularly hard days. This can obviously cause difficulties for businesses that are suddenly having to cover for unplanned absences. 

Contractual Sick Pay vs Statutory Sick Pay

Some companies and public sector employers will pay contractual sick pay which is much more generous than the level of statutory sick pay and this tends to be available after a year or two of employment has been accrued. 

Contractual Sick Pay for Depression at Work

A major concern for businesses is the amount of time that people with clinical depression can be off work for. Some contractual sick pay offers full pay for the first six months of sick leave and then goes down to half for the next six months. This can obviously hurt a business because they are having to pay for an employee who isn’t there and they are still without the work that would have been provided by that worker, so they are effectively being penalised twice. 

Care should also be taken when bringing in someone to do the work while the employee is absent, as in some cases the employee who is off sick will see this as an attempt to replace them permanently and deem it a constructive dismissal. We have a range of support resources on our website for such instances. 

Statutory Sick Pay

If contractual sick pay isn’t in place, the employee is able to apply for Statutory Sick Pay (SSP) after the first three days. This is at a much lower rate than many people’s salaries and is capped at £99.35 per week. 

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