Mike has always showed up to the office about ten minutes late, but he has consistently made up his time in the same day, so it has not been an issue. Recently though, Mike has started showing up later and later in the day, and still leaves at 5 PM. Although he has never been an outgoing person, his morale has been down while at work and he has started acting more irritable around coworkers and refuses to cooperate with his team. His cubicle neighbor caught him falling asleep while at his desk this week, he entirely forgot about the last weekly meeting, and he has started to fall behind schedule on projects. Some employers may just write off Mike as being rude, lazy, and in need of a performance improvement plan. Other employers may have recognized some of Mike’s behavior as common signs of depression.
According to one study, about 6.7% of American adults suffer from depression, so there is a strong chance that at some point in your career, you will likely either notice that an employee is showing symptoms of depression, or have an employee disclose to you that they are currently suffering from it. The question is: what should you do if you find that you have an employee, or multiple employees on your team, suffering from depression?
If you notice that Mike’s work is slipping, schedule a private meeting with him to talk about what you have noticed around the office. Acknowledge that you know this new behavior is not typical of him, explain that he is a valued member of the team, and clarify that you just wanted to have this meeting to address the decline in performance and check if there was anything that could be done to help. You are not a doctor, so avoid jumping to conclusions, or even trying to diagnose the issue. Be diplomatic and keep the conversation focused on what specific items you have witnessed recently and his performance as a whole. More times than not, employees may not be aware that they have depression, and having this conversation may be the first time that they acknowledge that something could be wrong. You can find more information here on how to best structure this meeting.
As a person, you may genuinely care about your team and worry when you notice that an individual, such as Mike, starts acting differently or seems down. However, as an employer, you may legally be restricted on what you can and cannot ask Mike about his personal life. When it comes to illness, both mental and physical, it is important to be sensitive to your employee’s situation without being nosy. You would not ask an employee what medications they are currently taking, which doctor they are going to, or what upcoming surgery they have scheduled. The same can be applied to mental health. There is a delicate balance between caring about Mike’s health and just being intrusive, especially when it comes to HR law. If you have an employee suffering from depression, you should strive to be supportive without being pushy.
Mental health can be a sensitive subject, and Mike’s mental health is his own private business. Unfortunately, there is still a stigma associated with mental health and depression, which causes people to often make assumptions about individuals suffering from mental illness. Do not become the office gossip by sharing Mike’s personal information with everyone else in the company. Treat Mike with respect, and do not belittle him by automatically assuming that he is no longer capable of doing his job, or suggesting that he needs you to dote over him. Show Mike that you care by asking if there is anything you can do to help, and discuss potential arrangements to make his work easier. Most importantly, show Mike that you care about his wellbeing by checking in on him periodically, and being a great listener if he does want to talk. If you are worried about saying the wrong things, here is a list of comments to avoid when you have an employee that suffers from depression.
The symptoms a person may have with depression changes from individual to individual. Therefore, we will consider common symptoms of depression and address potential accommodations that could help with each one. Some of these may work for your employee and your workspace, while others may not be as feasible depending on their line of work or the office space.
There are many types of depression that exist, and it can look and act differently for every single person. Sometimes depression is situational and is more of a stress-related short-term illness. Other times, depression is an ongoing illness that a person has been battling with for years and they are having a more difficult time with it than usual. If you want more advice on how to manage an employee with depression, then you should check out the Harvard Business Review’s article, here.