You are a manager of a company, and you have noticed that your most outgoing employee suddenly becomes aloof and withdrawn. The previously decisive team leader can’t seem to make the simplest decision anymore. That easygoing coworker starts arguing with coworkers and takes offense immediately. The most dependable employee shows up late, calls in sick, and projects are left undone. Those are some of the symptoms of depression in the workplace.
How can a manager handle the situation? Since production must continue, the compassionate manager mist be compassionate and be concerned for the employee’s well-being. The issues regarding performance have to be dealt with and yet the employee’s previously stellar record – or obvious emotional pain – tempts the manager to just pick up the slack until the employee is able to get his or her depression under control.
The truth is that scenario of the depressed employee often shows a problem for his or her manager. And why does the manager have to deal with the situation? The employee is a grown-up, and that being said why doesn’t s/he come to the manager before the manager has to be the one to approach the employee?
It is Important for the Manager to Approach the Depressed Employee
Chances are the depressed employee will not approach the manager first. Most depressed employees would rather do something unpleasant than admit to their managers that they’re depressed. A lot of this is because of the shame many depression sufferers feel about what they feel is their “weakness.” However, a large part of their silence is due to the stigma many people continue to experience around mental illness which has got to be crushed. The manager needs to be proactive in order to get the employee the help that is needed.
The First Thing is to Recognize how Depression Impacts Work
It is common for most managers want to clone some employees and would like to clobber others. Of course a slacker can become depressed just as a superstar can. What’s noticeable about depression, though, is the change in the employee. The good employee’s performance declines while the marginal employee gets worse.
This is what that change in performance may look like-
Loss of interest in work or socializing with colleagues
What to Say to a Depressed Employee
Managers are not there to talk about medical problems, counsel, or diagnose. They are there to talk about work performance and behaviour. They are also there to care about their employees’ well-being. When talking to a potentially depressed employee, here are some ways to do both-
1. The Manager can start with showing the concern for the employee, simply by expressing concern.
2. Focus comments on observable behaviors such as being “late to work four times in the past two weeks”, as well as sloppy work such as saying “your reports have had twice as many mistakes.”
3. Acknowledge the change, by saying this kind of behaviour is out of character.
4. Offer them an olive branch. “I don’t know if things in your personal life are affecting you, but if they are we have a confidential employee assistance plan that might be able to help.”
5. It is crucial to set limits. For instance, if the employee mentions marital discord, problems with a child, financial problems, etc, the manager should be empathic but should keep the conversation limited.
6. Refer to an E.A.P. Offer the employee the telephone number for the employee assistance program or suggest that it would serve the employee well to consider outside professional counseling through health care benefits, a community clinic, an employee assistance plan, or even through pastoral counseling.
7. Reinforce your concern by saying ” I’m very invested in helping you get back on track.”
8. Stress the need to improve performance by saying something like “However, whether or not you contact this service, you will still be expected to meet your performance goals.”
To Sum Up
Clinical depression has been described as a black dog, a suffocating blanket, and an endless, dark hole. Untreated, it can sap the energy and motivation out of the most productive employee. With the right help, it can be managed, overcome, or worked around. In fact, for some people, coping with depression has given them some gifts that might now have otherwise received – such as a greater perspective and empathy for others.