A Call to Management – The Work Environment – Can it Contribute to Depression?
In a report published by the Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine (April 2009), stressful work environments, along with “poor team spirit” were identified as risk factors for the development of depression. A second part of the study correlated work environment with antidepressant use. The researchers found subjects with the worst work environment were 53% more likely to purchase anti-depressant drugs (Reuters, “Lack of ‘team spirit’ at work tied to depression”, April 14, 2009)
It is widely known that Depressive conditions are major health issues facing the U.S. population. Some studies show incidence rates of 1:4. That’s incredible, at any one time one person out of four is experiencing some degree of depression. Look around your office right now – 25% of your workforce, or coworkers are not, though no fault of their own, fully productive.
Employees can, and do hide depressive conditions. The hiding of this condition can lead to Presenteeism – (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Presenteeism) the employee is there, but they are not functioning at 100% capacity. Employees may demonstrate some behaviors that could indicate that they are not functioning well. These behaviors include: missing deadlines, not finishing work, not returning calls or emails, being unable to make routine decisions, coming in late, having difficulty with co-worker relationships and withdrawing from the social component of work. Understandably, it is not the responsibility of the employer to diagnose who might be depressed, but it is the responsibility of the employer to create a positive environment for employees to thrive in. If management looks around they will be able to determine relatively quickly if they have a positive, or a depressive environment. If management cannot figure it out, talk to some employees – trust me – they know.
Why the concern with depression in the workplace. Two reasons – First, as humans it is our responsibility to help others, and it is the company’s responsibility to produce products or services of the highest quality possible to ensure the continued success of the company. Today, most of a company’s resources are based in Human Capital (knowledge). How would a manufacturing company do if their machinery equipment functioned only 80% of the time, and when it did function it only ran at 50% capacity. The balance sheet would probably not look very good. A 2003 study identified workplace depression causing a $44 billion loss in productivity. Understanding both the prevalence of workplace depression, and the associated costs, it is crucial that companies invest as heavily in protecting the mental health of their employees, as they do protecting the condition of their equipment.
Management needs to be very proactive in soliciting feedback from employees by offering various forms of communication. In this economic environment, it is somewhat unlikely that employees will be willing to fully express their feelings about their work environment. I believe many workers are in a “protective mode”, meaning they don’t want to rock the boat and risk their current position. If an employee does not feel safe expressing themselves, I believe they will continue to hide their feelings, or make statements they believe represent satisfaction with their position within the company.
Employees do have a role to play in creating positive environments. As in most situations people have to take care of themselves by finding healthy activities to participate in both at work and away from work. Keep in mind the dimensions of a person’s life. Vocational is only one part. Physical, Social, Intellectual, Spiritual, and Family are others. I believe that by strengthening the whole allows for greater satisfaction in each individual area.