January blues – tackling depression at work
For many, the so-called “January blues” will pass relatively swiftly, but for others, a low mood can be much more persistent and serious, resulting in clinical depression. Employers should always be on the lookout for any warning signs that employees are struggling mentally, and this is perhaps even more important now than at any other time of year.
Why is it important?
Of course, the well-being of staff should be at the top of any employer’s list of priorities. Creating a positive and supportive work environment is key to having a happy workforce, which in turn will help to increase productivity and improve performance and commitment to the organisation.
From a legal point of view, dealing effectively with any issues of this kind will also help to ensure you are complying with the disability discrimination provisions of the Equality Act 2010 as well as the duty to make reasonable adjustments.
Spotting the signs
There are many signs that an employee could be suffering from depression. In particular, you should be aware of any changes in the way that an employee behaves for example, an easy-going employee suddenly becomes irritable and argumentative with colleagues, or a previously reliable employee starts to call in sick, turn up late and miss deadlines. Other signs to be aware of include: loss of motivation; decreased productivity; frequent absences; poor punctuality and substance abuse.
How to help employees
Have an open-door culture
It is important to create an environment where people feel comfortable going to their manager, or another member of staff, to discuss any issues they are having at work, including their mental health. Having a workplace policy is certainly a step in the right direction, but it will be just as important to promote it internally to show that you take the matter seriously. Some organisations are training certain members of staff to be mental health first aiders, which shows the organisation treats mental health as seriously as physical health and also gives staff who are struggling an initial point of contact.
No matter how understanding an employer is, many employees will be reluctant to share information about their mental health, perhaps because of shame, embarrassment or fears about how they will be treated. It is crucial that managers are trained to spot the signs of depression, and if they suspect this is the case, they should take the lead and arrange to speak to the employee as soon as possible in private.
Focus on the person
Whether someone comes to you to discuss their mental health, or you raise the issue with them, focus on the person and not the problem. Avoid the temptation to make assumptions, and encourage your employee to speak by asking open questions about their particular situation and what support they need.
As with any other health condition, an employer should ensure that the employee’s information remains confidential. This will increase the employee’s trust in the employer, and will help make the employee feel comfortable discussing their problems.
Demonstrating concern and understanding can have a huge impact on an employee’s overall well-being and feelings towards work. Once you are aware of a problem, make sure you check in regularly with the employee and ask how they are doing. Employee counselling can also be useful.
Agree a plan
You should talk to the employee about what support they need to enable them to continue their duties. It is a good idea to devise an action plan, aimed at balancing the needs of both parties and covering:
- The impact of the individual’s mental health problem on performance.
- Workplace triggers and early warning signs.
- What is expected of the employee.
- Steps for both line manager and employee to take.
Consider workplace adjustments
As part of the plan, it is worth discussing whether any workplace adjustments would assist the employee. Typical adjustments could be:
- Flexible working.
- Changes to start/finish time.
- Changes to the role (temporary or permanent).
- Increased support from managers to help prioritise and manage workload.
- Provision of quiet rooms to take some time out if needed.
Mental health problems affect everyone in different ways and individuals can experience days when their symptoms are worse than others. It is therefore important to adopt a flexible approach and adjust this as and when needed.