Workplace Depression Effect on Productivity (Symptoms, Effects and How to Help)

Depression is a challenging mental health issue that not only affects the individual but his or her work and those that surround them. In order to improve upon productivity, understanding the mental illness affliction and how best to handle it is crucial. Perhaps the best approach is to begin researching how exactly depression impacts productivity.

What is the effect of depression on productivity in the workplace? Depression is known to cause a lack of energy and motivation, difficulty with decision making and concentration, and social withdrawal and irritability. While it may be obvious what these types of symptoms could do to productivity, a full breakdown of the effect on workplace productivity can help employers to see why even minor mental health concerns should be addressed. 

By knowing the different symptoms of depression and how said symptoms can affect the work day, it becomes more apparent how mental illness can have a negative impact on productivity. It is good for employers to help end the stigma behind depression and how to help employees that deal with it. When a company makes the health of employees a priority, the difference in productivity is astonishing.

Symptoms and Effects of Depression

Many people that are not familiar with depression think it is merely feeling sad for a while. While experiencing long term sadness is a symptom of depression, there is so much more to it. It is typically more than sadness that affects productivity.  A lack of energy in the workplace would cause obvious issues with productivity. 

Whether an employee finds themselves falling asleep at their desk or has trouble completing tasks in a timely manner, the hit to productivity is evident. If a worker is sleeping or moving slower than necessary, work is not getting completed as it should. Some employees will have to call out sick when their energy level doesn’t allow them to leave their home. The lack of energy that comes with depression is one of the biggest productivity killers associated with mental illness. 

A depressed employee that is experiencing a lack of motivation is an employee that has a low productivity rate. While he or she might find some way to complete tasks, without proper motivation, it is likely that the end result is not as good as it could be. Low motivation is a huge productivity killer in the workplace.

When someone has difficulty in making decisions, there are several ways in which an employee can create problems. While not all employees have the ability to make decisions, even choosing between two items that are not work related during the workday can create wasted time. For example, an individual that is struggling between a simple choice like decaf or caffeinated coffee in the break room could lose minutes working. 

On the flip side, a senior leader that is responsible for decision making could spend days pondering a decision that could have been made in an hour. The decrease in productivity from this side effect to depression makes a significant impact on companies. 

A worker that is unable to concentrate on the task at hand is one that is not only wasting time and money but often distracts other employees from their work. All of these effects of a lack of concentration lead to a vast diminish in production. Gaining that lost productivity back can be a challenge in itself, but unfortunately, further productivity blocks can occur.

Social withdrawal is a side effect that not only alters a depressed person’s personal life but his or her work life as well. Most jobs require employees to work with others or at the very least interact with others on occasion. If a worker does not feel like chatting with a coworker or client, they may put it off. Ultimately, an employee’s social withdrawal will put a strain on a company’s bottom line. 

Irritability is a common symptom of depression that can cause numerous issues in the office, many of which result in a long term problem. Offending clients, potential clients, and fellow employees with an irritated mood is not the way to a productive environment. It removes focus from the job at hand so that the issues caused by an irritated person can be addressed. 

Some other common symptoms include fluctuation in weight, memory issues, pessimism, and headaches. A rapid gain or loss of weight is often due to the excessive or under eating associated with depression. Such changes in weight are often a health concern that can lead to other health complications. This causes problems with production when employees have to take multiple sick days as a result of their numerous health concerns. 

Memory issues can, and do, happen with depression. This can take a significant hit on a person’s work life, as they can forget the tasks they need to complete. This might lead to missed deadlines, errors, and dropping the ball with client meetings. When memory concerns become a side effect of a worker’s depression, the complications and loss of productivity can be enormous. 

Being pessimistic tends to mean that the bag things a person believes will happen will actually happen. There is a phrase that talks about the power of positive thinking. That power is absent when positive thinking is not around. Negativity generally generates negative results. 

Headaches often cause employees to miss work or an inability to complete work. Because of this, productivity levels suffer and other employees are likely needed to take on additional work.  This not only limits production but can cause a riff between coworkers. It is hard for some people to avoid the feeling of annoyance when they have to pick up the slack dropped off by a sick or unworking employee.

While the aforementioned symptoms of depression are just a handful, the majority of side effects can decrease productivity. This should put “caring about employee wellbeing” at the top of a company’s list. Understanding what employers can do for their employees is a big step in moving towards a more productive and healthy workforce.

Offering Employees Help with Depression

Helping employees with their mental health may seem like an issue that should be left to medical professionals. It is a dangerous topic for an unknowing person to get involved in. However, there are a number of things that companies can do to help workers in some way. While many of these ways are like an olive branch to a medical professional, there are also a variety of ways an employer or boss can assist in the workplace.

Studies show that 80% of treated depression cases have improved symptoms within 4 to 6 weeks. Untreated depression is known to spiral out of control and cause even more trouble. If an employee is struggling with this common form of mental illness, getting him or her treatment is the best way to help. This can be done in a few ways. 

First, employers should ensure that the company offered medical insurance has excellent coverage for mental health treatment. Since 10% of adults suffer from depression, it is a quality aspect of insurance to put an emphasis on. If the industry the company is in causes a lot of depression or mental health concerns, it may be a good idea to have a therapist or similar medical personnel on staff to provide assistance to those that need it. For example, first responders are 20% more likely to commit suicide. Investing in on-hand help for those individuals is smart. If that is not in the budget, finding a doctor that is willing to be on call for the company could also work. 

Another way to provide help with an employee’s depression is to simply talk to them. A depressed person should be conversed with. While the conversation should lead to getting them professional help, it is essential that he or she is approached gently about the subject. Try to ask questions about the person and avoid placing emphasis on errors made at work. If the employee does not want to speak with you, do not force the matter. Refer them to someone else if they would be more comfortable. Do not, however, make any information shared about an employee’s mental health office gossip. 

If a worker confides in you about the mental help they are seeing, it is a good time to ask what you might be able to do to help. If he or she might need an occasional mental health day, grant it. By encouraging a work excuse from a medical professional, a company can better ensure that this kindness is not taken advantage of. 

An employee that is seeking treatment might also request an extra reminder or two about specific tasks. By assisting the person in this way, a leader can show support and simultaneously boost productivity. While this is a good way to help the employee when they need it, do not assume that a person with depression automatically wants this help. Assuming that an employee is unable to do his or her job because of a mental health problem will only offend someone. 

By having managers or bosses that an employee feels that he or she can speak with, a corporation is more likely to keep a quality workforce. Whether depression comes into play or not, open communication in the workplace tends to increase employees’ happiness at work. When depression is present, it makes the situation much easier if the employee feels that they can inform a manager of what is going on. 

It can be very prudent that a supervisor tries to help an employee going through depression to set some goals to work towards. When the employee has practical tasks to aim at, life can seem a bit easier when those goals are met. It also allows them to place focus on the future. 

By having employee events after work, a company can help to keep a depressed person social. While it is a symptom to avoid such things, it can be good for them to get out and possibly help them to forget their depression for a few moments. It is even better if the event involves exercise or physical activity to get the individual moving. A pick-up game of basketball among coworkers can be a big help to someone experiencing depression. 

If a supervisor or manager was aware of an employee suffering through depression, it might be a good idea to discreetly delay big decisions if at all possible. Not only will these decisions put extra pressure on the affected person, but the decision might be made when the individual is not in the right headspace. A muddled work decision might compromise business, productivity, or even personal aspects of the individual’s life.

An employer might also try to normalize depression and make it a less taboo topic by providing reading material in common areas or hanging informational posters in the breakroom regarding depression. If people are uncomfortable opening up to coworkers about depression, it may be helpful to know that others are even vaguely aware of what depression is like and what can be done to help. 

By assisting employees during episodes of depression, a company is more likely to see a positive impact on productivity over time. While productivity should not be the driving force behind a company’s care for its employees, the benefits do not have to be, nor should they be, ignored.

Treating Depression

There are multiple treatment possibilities for depression, all of which should be explored and studied. Treatment options are often related to the cause of depression, the individual, and the medical professional prescribing the treatment. From medicinal options to therapy sessions, to holistic remedies and activity based relief, depression can be treated. 

Prescription medication is at times the go-to option for regimenting depression. Several medicines can be prescribed, depending on the specific type of depression that the patient is experiencing. Often, the prescribed medication is an antidepressant. While it can be a great way to improve the patient’s mood, it can also increase the risk of suicide within the first few weeks. Over time, an antidepressant should decrease that risk, along with the depression as well. 

Another danger that comes with antidepressants is what may happen if the patient suddenly stops taking them. Not only will it cause depression to get worse, but it can also cause withdrawal to occur. Withdrawal symptoms are sure to add to any depression symptoms and make the illness much worse. This is a significant reason that medications should be taken as prescribed. Doses should not be missed or ignored because of the complications that may arise if it is not a priority.

Therapy is another very popular treatment option. We see it in the movies all the time – the patient is kicked back on a couch, chatting away with a therapist or “shrink” with a notepad and asking vague questions. Although some therapists might do things this way, my personal sources say it isn’t quite right. In fact, I was informed that there was nothing comfortable about the seating at all! Nonetheless, talking it out part of therapy is the part that helps most people. Sometimes it is the exercises and advice provided by a professional that does the trick. Whatever it is, it works for most people.

Speaking with a therapist or psychologist is one of the leading holistic remedies to depression. Another one is focusing on one’s overall health. Depression is most commonly coupled with an additional health issue: obesity, diabetes, heart disease, etc. By trying to heal other problems, depression is expected to improve as well. The holistic approach in those situations is a healthy diet and proper exercise. 

Another holistic approach is activity based. The activity is called EFT Tapping. Essentially, EFT Tapping is the stimulation of specific points on your body by simply tapping them. These points are energy points on various points of the body. It is believed that if you were to focus on what is bothering you, then tap on an energy point 5 times with your fingertips, you begin to accept the thought, resolve it internally, and move on with more positive energy. 

To many, tapping seems a bit far fetched. It might even seem a little crazy. I thought so, too. When Harvard Medical School backs the treatment as truth, I had to rethink my stance. Not only has tapping been proven to work, but it is far cheaper than all other alternatives. Tapping is free. Medicine and therapy cost those with depression thousands of dollars. In truth, $71 billion was spent on treating depressive disorders in 2013. That number is always increasing. 

Tapping is similar to acupuncture. However, if you have a fear of needles, tapping is probably the way to go. Acupuncture is a holistic approach to treating depression, as well. It is a treatment style that has been around for thousands of years, and while it is becoming more popular with treating depression, it has worked long before the popularity came with it. Despite its presence in the history books, acupuncture seems to have a lack of research when it comes to science-based studies. Studies do show that acupuncture releases endorphins, however. Endorphins can act as a natural medicine against depression.

With the variety of treatment options, there is little reason that someone suffering from depression should continue to suffer. Treatments range in price and type, but there is something to help everyone that needs it. Getting the right treatment is at the hands of the depressed individual accepting that he or she needs the assistance or desire to feel better.

Why Depression Occurs 

We’ve gone over what depression might look like, how others can help, and possible treatments. What we haven’t touched on yet is why depression happens. There are so many reasons as to why someone might experience depression. Some of these reasons include genetics, an individual’s brain make up, and experiences. Having said this, the type of depression that one has is often based on the reason in which the person has an illness. 

One common type of depression is bipolar disorder. This is a mental illness in which the person experiences elation in one moment and extreme sadness in the next. Another common form of the disease is major depression, which means that an individual feels the symptoms of depression so intensely that it interferes with his or her life. A persistent depressive disorder is a long term low, meaning that the depression is steady for at least 2 years. 

A common form of depression in postpartum mothers is postpartum depression, in which the hormones and bodily changes in a woman after pregnancy cause an overwhelming feeling that she struggles to deal with. Seasonal affective disorder is a type of depression that happens in the winter months. It is a result of experiencing less sunlight and being stuck inside more often as a result of the weather. The final kind of depression is psychotic depression. This is a mental illness that involves delusions and hallucinations. 

Studies show that depression varies in both types and in people. For example, female suffering from depression will likely experience different symptoms than a man. Adults will feel differently during their depression than a teen. Because of the different aspects within the brain, symptoms are different for everyone. A woman is more likely to feel worthless and guilty, a man is usually more irritated and tired. Women are more likely to experience depression because of the numerous hormonal changes that she sees in a lifetime: puberty, pregnancy, menopause, etc. 

Other differences in gender include the way that depression is responded to. A man is more likely to turn to drink alcohol or doing drugs amid their depression. However, a woman is more likely to attempt suicide. 

If a staff member may be contemplating suicide, it is vital to ensure that he or she is aware of the resources available to help. The National Suicide Hotline is a free phone call that can save a life. The phone number is 1-800-273-TALK (8255), and the website is Utilizing these resources will give those afflicted a better chance at survival.

With the frequency at which a company may see depression amongst employees, it is ideal that training is offered to all workers on the matter. When depression is genetic, the reason is less imperative, and the healing should take precedence. By employing a workforce that is knowledgeable about and open to mental health concerns, feeling the shame that often comes with depression is less likely. Because of this, help can be more freely offered. 

Depression is more common than most people think. In fact, 1 in 10 employees will suffer from some form of depression in their lifetime. By having the ability to identify depression, a supervisor may also have the opportunity to speak with the individual on a more personal level. This can open up avenues for treatment and could even save a life. 

When depression is treated, a member of the staff and the company as a whole will find that the productivity levels will increase. This is because of the increased ability to focus and the lessened need for sick days, in addition to a variety of other reasons. Employers and employees may find that the openness created between management and their subordinates develops a deeper relationship and a greater willingness to perform at his or her best for the company. 

Treatment choices vary from medicinal to holistic, but many of the available treatments will help those that have depression. Finding the right treatment option may require some research and speaking with a medical professional, but getting better is possible. Whatever treatment option is decided upon is irrelevant; the importance falls within the improvement of moods and the lessened chance of suicide. 

It is clear at this point that depression is a serious mental illness that should not be ignored. While many feel that ignoring it will make it go away, in most cases, it serves only to make it worse. When a company cares about the well-being of its workers, it is more likely to succeed and have employees that love their jobs. When employees love their jobs, they will exhibit behavior that will only increase the success of the business.

Related Questions

How long does an employer have to hold my job if I require time off for my mental health? Under the laws and regulations of FMLA, an employer must maintain the position for 12 weeks if the employee has worked for the company for a full 12 months at an average of 25 hours or more per week. A doctor’s excuse is typically required.

How many sick days do most employees take per year? The most recent data states that in 2018, the workforce took, on average, only 2.5 sick days. While this number seems low, research has determined that this small number is the result of employees being unable to afford the time off.

How might a supervisor inspire a depressed employee to escape his or her symptoms? When dealing with mental illness, it is vital that a supervisor avoid crossing any lines. By using inspiring incentives, such as a paid day off for those on the winning team in a group activity, someone feeling non-social might see the benefit in making an appearance.

Steve Todd

Steve Todd, founder of Open Sourced Workplace and is a recognized thought leader in workplace strategy and the future of work. With a passion for work from anywhere, Steve has successfully implemented transformative strategies that enhance productivity and employee satisfaction. Through Open Sourced Workplace, he fosters collaboration among HR, facilities management, technology, and real estate professionals, providing valuable insights and resources. As a speaker and contributor to various publications, Steve remains dedicated to staying at the forefront of workplace innovation, helping organizations thrive in today's dynamic work environment.

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