How HR can effectively handle employee depression

File pic: Depression

Everyone has tough days and it’s something that we can’t dispute. But when those days turn into weeks and then months, it can be something much more serious. We are living in a time of uncertainty, and many people are feeling stressed, anxious and depressed.

One of the most common mental health problems is depression, affecting one in ten people at any one time as indicated by researchers. When you’re depressed you don’t control your thoughts, but your thoughts control you, hence there is need for an HR intervention to depressed employees.

What is depression and what causes it?

We all have mental health just as we have physical health. It moves up and down along a spectrum from good to poor. Considering how much time we spend at work, it’s not surprising that our jobs can affect our wellbeing.

Depression describes a range of symptoms from a period of low spirit that makes coping with normal tasks harder, to life-threatening thoughts and behaviours that can make it impossible to function.

Someone experiencing depression may find it difficult to be motivated to complete tasks  including seemingly simple things like getting to work on time. Depression is more than being sad over something that happened.

Why depression and mental health issues at workplaces.  

While a job may not cause depression, the environment may worsen symptoms for people who already live with depression. Any workplace or job can be a potential cause or a contributing factor for depression depending on the level of stress and available support at the workplace.

Depression is both common and serious, affecting different people in different ways. In addition to the commonly recognised symptom of low mood, less well understood are the cognitive symptoms of depression, e.g lack of concentration, indecisiveness or forgetfulness.

Depression has an impact on business directly through increased absenteeism, accidents and high employee turnover, as well as decreased productivity and performance, hence it’s key to have discussions concerning it.

Signs of depression at work

Many people spend their working life at work, so it’s important to determine if we have the safest and healthiest workspace for people. Depression in the workplace can be invisible and go undetected. However, there are noticeable signs that could initiate a conversation.

The signs of depression at work are similar to general depressive symptoms and  they  affect your level of concentratration in your job as well as at home. Examples include missing work or having trouble concentrating at work. When you are depressed you can miss deadlines and fail to get work done or complete tasks as intended.

Depression tends to affect people in their prime working years and may last a lifetime if untreated. It could be that your workplace is the cause of depression. If you’re largely overcome with depression while at work, but not as much elsewhere, it could be that feelings of depression are driven by your job.

Serious workplace issues like harassment, discrimination, abuse, and bullying can eventually lead to feelings of depression, if left unaddressed. When you are depressed you feel fatigue and tired all the time.

Dealing with depression in the workplace

If you’re dealing with depression at work, try these tips. They are not intended as a cure, but could help provide ways to better cope if you’re dealing with depression at work.

Staying quiet is not beneficial to the employee or the employer. It’s up to HR to lead the way in creating a culture that supports people and their healthcare needs, including depression struggles. Here are several simple yet effective ways to transform workplace culture and create an environment supportive of mental health:

Acknowledge that depression exists and seek assistance

Possibly the first step to managing depression in the workplace is acknowledging it. Come to terms with how you are feeling and probably accept that you are feeling  that. After that, it’s also good to ask yourself what may be driving your depression? Is it a major depressive disorder? Is your depression work-related? Or is something else causing it? It’s not an easy thing to think about, or to come to terms with, but accepting you are dipressed is  important for managing depression at work and elsewhere.

Depression will likely not just go away by itself. It’s important that you find a professional you can connect with and feel safe talking to.

Ways of improving depression and mental wellbeing  at work

Good mental health at work and good management go hand in hand and there is strong evidence that workplaces with high levels of mental wellbeing are more productive. Many organisations currently fall short when it comes to supporting employee mental health and wellbeing.

There are, however, several ways to do so that not only help to create a mentally healthy environment but also a workplace that employees want to fully participate in. Here are some simple things that organisations can do to create a mentally healthy workplace:

Promoting  and supporting wellbeing issues at work

There is no doubt that improving employee wellbeing is beneficial to any organisation and wellbeing should be considered part of an employer’s ethical responsibility particularly when we consider how prevalent mental health issues are. 

 A company that prioritises health and wellbeing in the workplace will not only reduce absences, but also attract and retain talent, improve productivity and boost morale.

There are small steps that organisations can take to ensure wellbeing is a priority in their employees’ day to day working lives and one of it is simply Promoting  and supporting wellbeing issues at work.Improving employee wellbeing must be a priority, and employers should be considerate about how their wellbeing strategy builds on and aligns to their health and safety policy.

Create an open, inclusive caring  culture

As with any facet of company culture, creating and encouraging a sense of belonging in your workplace begins at the leadership level. Employees need to believe that their organisation provides a positive and inclusive working environment and trust that they will be provided with the support they need. Otherwise, it may be difficult to break down the stigma around mental health at workplaces.

This requires employers to create a culture that supports inclusivity, then champion that culture daily on yhe same note it should be made clear  that any mental health and wellbeing issue employees wish to discuss will always be treated with confidentiality, respect and understanding, never intolerance.

Create a healthy work environment

The work environment is known to have a significant impact on employee mental wellness, productivity, job turnover and overall profits. Leaders can influence a healthy workplace environment by having an open-door policy, keeping employees informed of developments, departmental changes, business goals, and policies. These provide direction, build trust, and reduce employee stress.

There are also top-down policy changes that may benefit your workforce, including flex time so employees can get exercise and attend to personal needs while also completing a full day of work, and work-from-home options, whether it’s a full move to a home office or one or two days per week.

Be an empathetic HR leader

Dealing with depression is challenging for both the sufferer and those who contact them. As a result, you should also know how engaging with a depressed employee may affect you.

First, remember this isn’t about you at all. This is about how you, as a leader, may assist your employee. Remember that depression is a medical condition and, in most situations, limited by time. By helping a depressed employee, you assist your team, your organisation and demonstrate excellent leadership.Depression is more likely to negatively impact work performance if sufficient planning and adjustments are not made in time. As a leader, it’s your obligation to foster a healthy work atmosphere that benefits all employees, including those who are depressed.

Work on the work-life balance issues.

When we think of mental health, we usually think about conditions like anxiety and depression, but there is more to being mentally healthy than not suffering from a specific condition. The stresses and pressures of balancing work with the demands of your personal life can often result in employees feeling overwhelmed or even cause them to burnout.

Ensuring that a positive balance is promoted by implementing effective practices to combat stress. Stress and overworking can all lead to mental health challenges and can resultantly lead to serious performance issues. This is why you should focus on establishing a healthy work-life balance for all of your employees

Depression and workplace productivity can significantly counteract each other. This is a common challenge for many people suffering from depression at workplaces. Employers suffer, too: and there is doubt. The estimated cost, due to loss of productivity related to depression and its effects, is in the billions of dollars hence managing depression should be a norm and a continuous process in organisations.


  • Emmanuel Zvada writes in his own capacity he is a Human Capital Consultant and an International Recruitment Expert. For comments inbox to [email protected]  or call +263771467441.




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