Depression In The Workplace

Most human resource managers say they have recognized signs of depression among workers at their companies, but depressed employees aren't always getting help, a survey finds.

Among human resource managers for 406 U.S. companies who responded to the survey, more than half -- 56 percent -- said employees suffering from depression have had a negative impact on productivity at their company in the last three years.

The survey, faxed to 2,300 companies, was conducted in July by the Society for Human Resource Management (www.shrm.org) and the National Foundation for Brain
Research (www.brainnet.org).

An estimated 17 million Americans experience serious depression each year.

Symptoms that can indicate depression that human resource managers said they most often recognized among workers include tiredness or lethargy, poor concentration, a decline in productivity, overall sadness and an increase in unexplained absences.

Not all of the managers took action when they recognized a problem, however. Six out of 10 said they had taken steps such as suggesting the employee seek counseling.

"We're doing a pretty good job at getting the word out that depression is an identifiable illness that affects productivity," said Daniel J. Conti, who runs an employee assistance program for Bank One Corp. "However, we still have a ways to go in tying that together with good treatment."

Two-thirds of the companies responding to the survey have similar employee assistance programs that could arrange counseling for employees, and 98 percent have health insurance plans that cover treatment for mental illness.

But managers and co-workers may not know how to approach someone who needs help, or confidentiality concerns may deter a worker from seeking assistance.

The Society for Human Resource Management and the National Foundation for Brain Research suggested steps companies can take to break down barriers that may prevent workers from getting help. They include:

Training managers in how to recognize depression and approach a worker to offer assistance, which may need to include a temporary reduction in workload or hours while treatment is sought.

Offering all workers a confidential depression screening, which some companies have arranged with counseling services that provide a toll-free phone number.

Using an outside employee assistance program so workers don't feel they must share personal problems with a colleague to get help.

Written By Alice Ann Love