How to handle an employee with depression

Depression is one of the leading causes of disability worldwide, with 24 per cent of women and 13 per cent of men in England diagnosed in their lifetime, according to MHFA England.

Mental ill health is responsible for 72 million working days lost and costs £34.9 billion each year. But many managers only become aware of mental health issues only when they investigate why a team member is performing poorly or taking a vast amount of time off work.

In an ideal world, an employee would feel empowered to report a mental health problem and feel able to discuss this openly with their colleagues. So it’s incredibly important that employers know and understand the symptoms of depression and how to handle any staff that suffer with it.

Here’s how to handle and help staff with depression. There are also lots of articles including FAQs related to depression available at the online counselling service, BetterHelp.

Learn about depression and the symptoms

An employee is most likely to approach you as their manager first, rather than attempt to tell HR or a PA about their disorder.

Anticipation is key when it comes to mental health as an employee may come to you without warning and so it’s handy to learn something about the mental health condition and about its symptoms.

Depression symptoms include lethargy, poor sleep, feeling low, lack of energy, demotivation and poor concentration.

Reconsider workloads

The last thing you want a depressed person to feel is overwhelmed with work and unable to tell you. Cognitive function can also be affected by lack of sleep.

There are a number of ways you can help:

  • Break up large projects into smaller tasks to make things more manageable
  • Allow the employee to team up with confident staff members
  • Always celebrate successes
  • Give as much time as possible to achieve deadlines
  • Give constructive criticism rather than tellings off
  • Ensure assignments match the abilities of staff

Flexible schedule

Most office workers work a fixed amount of hours, rather than at home. 

But because sleep problems are a major hurdle for those suffering with depression, including sleeping too much or far too little.

It could be an idea to allow more flexible working – perhaps they could return part-time to their role or start later in the day if they’re tired from medication. 

UK mental health charity Mind suggests that flexible working offers a better work/life balance for sufferers as it gives them more freedom to avoid rush hour commutes, attend medical appointments or stay in bed later in the morning if they’re tired from medication.

Be the boss – lead by example

As the manager of a business, looking after employees should be your number one priority, after all,  they’re the reason why you make profits.

Sufferers deal with symptoms that make work a real struggle every single day.

And while you may find yourself in situations with that colleague, where you feel frustrated or annoyed with them, remind yourself that this is not about you.

If an employee hasn’t come to you and you have noticed a change in behaviour or decline in performance, you could meet with them privately to discuss it.

As an employer is it really important to make sure that your employee feels welcome to discuss any issues that they may be feeling, and that you really take the time to listen to what that member of the team is trying to tell you.

Create a culture

Creating a culture where employees feel comfortable about seeking support can make a huge difference. It means that staff know where to turn if they are struggling – and most importantly, they don’t feel ashamed or embarrassed to do it. Supporting emotional wellbeing is one of the most important things you can do as a manager.

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