Are you an employer who is suddenly finding his employee exhibiting sluggishness? Is your employee becoming very irregular? Is one of your staff members looking lost at work? Has she/he been unable to meet deadlines for some time? May be it is not just a bad day that your employee is struggling with. Chances are that she/he is clinically depressed.
A couple of years back, a young trainee at Infosys had committed suicide as he considered himself incapable of matching up to the high standards of work expected of him and feared that he may not clear the performance assessment test.
There are many young employees out there with similar doubts about themselves. These are employees who consider themselves inferior to their peers in some way, or have been bullied into thinking so—some of them may be amongst your most productive and loyal employees. Such people start avoiding work. Their absenteeism becomes noticeable. They find it more and more difficult to get out of bed and drag themselves to work. Even if they do manage to, they are visibly lost and listless, keep to themselves, and remain slow.
A study by Assocham had reported that 42 per cent of the employees in Indian organisations are depressed. It is reported that globally, depression is the single major cause for low productivity. A study by Harvard Medical School said that depression is the most costly health condition. Annually, an alarming 200 million workdays are lost in the US, owing to depressed employees causing losses to the tune of $44 billion a year.
The fact that the World Health Organisation had declared India to be the most depressed country in the world, followed by China and the US, is not something to be proud of.
However, with actress Deepika Padukone openly talking about how she faced depression, and many other celebrities including the Indian prime minister discussing the condition on his talk show, the awareness regarding depression has certainly spread. It goes to prove that it is time for employers, managers and leaders to sit up and take note. The highest amount of stress is seen in India’s corporate world. It is the responsibility of managers and team leaders to closely study those employees who are struggling to make simple decisions or failing to socialise.
Such people need help coping with depression. This becomes a challenge when some of them may not even be aware that they are depressed. Here are some of the warning signs to watch out for:
• Lack of focus
• Inability to make quick decisions
• Failing memory
• Drop in performance and productivity
• Sluggishness and tardiness
• Fall in work quality
• Procrastination and missed deadlines
• Tendency to stay alone and withdraw
• Disinterest in work
If you have noticed your employee exhibiting several of these behaviors, it is time for a heart to heart conversation, because you as an employer or manager are responsible for your employee’s mental wellbeing.
How to talk to the depressed employee?
Step 1: Ensure that the employee is comfortable and there is privacy. Assure the individual that the discussion will be kept confident if they so desire, and make sure that confidentiality is maintained.
Step 2: Begin by making it clear that you are concerned about the employee’s mental and physical well-being. Do not reprimand or start pointing out shortfalls and errors. Ask the right questions about their health and well-being so that they are encouraged to open up to you and confide in you.
Step 3: Refer the employee to a counsellor or therapist or an HR person. Don’t jump to conclusions about their mental health. They may not be depressed at all. They could just be disturbed about some issue at home or at work.
“Every man has his secret sorrows which the world knows not; and often times we call a man cold when he is only sad.” ? Henry Wadsworth Longfellow
Step 4: Draw out a schedule along with the employee setting clear dates for consultation with a therapist, counselor or other professional, and a work performance plan to get the employee back on track, and official meetings to discuss workplace-related issues if any that may have contributed to the problem.
Step 5: Make your expectations clear, you can even be firm while being supportive.
Step 6: Make adjustments in the team, and also allow flexibility to the employee if required to help her/him become more comfortable, till the individual is cured. Give the employee time off work to relax and get a hold on life before returning to work. Call and check on the person in between to ensure everything is fine.
Step 7: Help the employee get back on track in terms of performance and productivity by setting short-term or daily targets or goals. Achievement of these will add to the confidence of the employee and help her/him snap out of the depressed state faster. Involve the employee in social activities. Even if they refuse to participate, insist gently without being bossy.
Step 8: Review their performance regularly.
What do organisations needs to do?
The uncertainty of the work environment and the pressure to perform lead to stress in today’s super competitive job market. With time, such stress causes depression in the young crop of employees. At the middle management level, not only are there targets to meet but also loans to repay, children’s demands to fulfill, family pressures and the realisation that one is old or outdated for job market. In addition, there is no dearth of relationship issues that come with irregular work hours, professional demands, work-life imbalance and so on.
Organisations in India need to train their leaders and managers to deal with employees suffering from depression and other mental health disorders. They have to be taught to recognise the symptoms and be empathetic and supportive. Creating a culture of support is very important.
More and more companies are including stress-management workshops, yoga and meditation sessions as well as fun days at work to help employees de-stress.
Many organisations have already introduced various policies to ensure the mental and physical well- being of their workforce in the form of:
(i) Compulsory annual leave
(ii) Yoga, meditation and health awareness workshops
(iii) Inhouse therapists and counsellors to help staff
(iv) Free sessions with psychologists
Above all, everyone needs to be sensitive towards the victims of depression and do everything possible to help them come out of it.