When depression is disguised as underperformance

How to deal with depression at the workplace

Let’s talk about depression.

More than 350 million people of all ages suffer from depression globally. It is a very real problem that is affecting and claiming the lives of friends and family, the rich and the poor, the young and old alike. It does not discriminate.

Still, the concept and awareness of this mental disorder is not as widespread as it should be.

According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), “depression is a common mental disorder, characterised by sadness, loss of interest or pleasure, feelings of guilt or low self-worth, disturbed sleep or appetite, feelings of tiredness, and poor concentration.”

Severe cases of depression could lead to suicide, however if spotted early, the condition can be treated behaviourally, or with medication.

At work, depression can be the root cause of an underperforming employee. If you’re working in a large organisation, chances are, at some point or another, you will come across an employee that’s suffering from depression.

The symptoms of depression can manifest like so in the workplace:

A drop in productivity

Frequently missing deadlines

Work that is not up to par

Frequently absent or tardy

Being tired all the time

Unexplained body pains and aches

Alcohol or drug abuse

If you think your employee is suffering from depression, don’t ignore the situation. Act immediately. Here’s what you can do to help:

Speak with your employee

Approach your employee with your concern. Be supportive and convey the message that you need him or her in your team, and encourage your employee to get help from a counsellor or a healthcare professional.

Alternatively, if you think this direct approach is not suitable, get a mentor or a close colleague of your employee to do the talking. It may be better received by your employee.

Learn about depression

Read up on depression on legitimate websites and brochures. Get to know the symptoms and effects of the disorder, and how it can affect careers. Learn to recognise when depression is interfering with your employee’s work assignments.

Change work arrangements

Should treatment need to be sought, be prepared to make new work arrangements for him/her. Speak with your human resource department. Perhaps a working week of 3 days would be more suitable to allow your employee to get better, and slowly increase it back to a normal working week when he or she is ready.

Remember that reducing the number of working days should go hand in hand with the reducing the responsibilities handled by your employee. The last thing you’d want is for him or her to feel guilty and stressed.

Regularly check in with your employee

Show that you care (and mean it!) by checking in with your employee regularly. Ask how things are, whether they are feeling better (if they are seeking treatment). Also, discuss with your employee on what adjustments he or she needs temporarily, to help them cope.

Take threats seriously

If your employee voices his feeling of hopefulness with phrases such as “life is not worth living” or “the world would be better without me”, take these statements seriously and call the authorities. If you’re in Malaysia, Befrienders is a body that aims to help and support those with depression and suicidal tendencies. Their hotline is available 24-hours at +603-79568144 or +603-79568145.

If you’re worried about the efficiency, time and cost spent on your employee, remember that accommodating your existing employees, even if it means they have to take a month or two off for cases like this, is still more cost efficient than hiring and training a new person from scratch.

The next time you have an underperforming employee, assess the situation to see if it could be more than just a complacency problem. Depression is a serious disorder, suffered by a significantly large portion of people globally, with most going untreated. You can play a role in changing that.

5 myths about depression debunked

Depression is not a medical disease

Depression does not mean you’re crazy

Depression does not have to be permanent

Depression is not something you can snap out of

Depression is not merely an extreme case of sadness or grief

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3 types of difficult bosses and how to deal with them

10 clear signs you should quit your job

This article does not act in place of any advice received from a medical or mental health professional. If you or someone you know has symptoms of depression, consult a mental health practitioner for further action.