What do you do when a good, hard-working employee gradually becomes less productive, makes more mistakes, seems withdrawn and anxious but denies that anything is wrong? These and other behaviours like irritability, angry outbursts, unusual concern about other people’s activities, loss of former enthusiasm, and/or constant fatigue might be signs that the person has tipped into depression.
Depression is an illness which has been calculated to cost the Canadian economy $51 billion and is a contributing factor for over 40% long-term disability claims. One in five people in Canada are likely to have at least one depressive episode in their lifetime, most often between the ages of 18 and 65.
Over the last 30 years, I have recovered from depression several times and have still been able to run a successful business. I am now certified by the Canadian Mental Health Association, Ontario to teach their Complex Issues, Clear Solutions programs. If you are concerned about the well being of an employee and don’t know what you should do, here are some tips for you…
- Do consider your time and effort a good investment in your own development as a leader
- Do record your observations about the employee’s recent behavior and anything you have noticed in the workplace which may be contributing to distress such as excessive work hours, being “on call” 24/7, layoffs, reorganization, unresolved conflicts, and job insecurity.
- Do record the employee’s strengths and what you particularly value about the employee.
- Do prepare to have an individual, uninterrupted discussion with the employee where you begin with “I see, or I have noticed…” where your primary focus is to listen to understand the situation from the employee’s point of view. Use your best listening skills of focused attention, paraphrasing and summarizing back to the employee. Do ask open ended questions that might begin with “I am curious about ….. or Help me understand …..” Strive to finish your listening by summarizing everything you have understood back to the employee, until the employee agrees you have “got it.”
- Do recognize that many depressed employees recover faster when they stay at work. Do take a hopeful, collaborative approach and encourage the employee to participate in suggesting solutions to how he or she can contribute to his or her success at work.
- Don’t attempt to diagnose an illness or act as a therapist.
- Don’t assume that the employee is weak or deserves blame for the situation.
- Don’t ignore the situation, hoping that it will resolve itself. Even if it turns out that it is not as serious as mental illness, your concern will strengthen your relationship with your employee. If it is serious, then early intervention is very helpful. Accommodation at work and treatment through a family doctor and/or a trained therapist leads to the quickest recovery.
- Don’t give up. It is a challenging situation for you, your employee, and your team. Supporting an employee back to full productivity will pay off in your enhanced skills and knowledge and a safer and healthier workplace.