What’s up with your employee … Disengagement or Depression?

I found this article (Depression in the workplace) by chance — I saw a tweet from Dr. Sanjay Gupta on twitter … and it really made me stop and look twice. 1 in 8 US workers… that’s just over 12% .. totally likely that someone that I (or you) work with is depressed.

What if we are mistaking disengagement with depression? Is there a difference or is one impacting the other? What if you take this as a sign that they are being a jerk but its really depression?

Often employees’ signs of depression go unnoticed. “Even if someone is less efficient, feeling less creative or they can’t smile much, which is common, it’s rarely showing as much as it seems,” said Sally Winston, PsyD, a psychologist and co-director of the Anxiety and Stress Disorders Institute of Maryland.  —http://www.everydayhealth.com/health-report/major-depression-resource-center/sanjay-gupta-depression-in-the-workplace.aspx?xid=tw_dsg

Ulitmatately, we can not make assumptions — one way or the other. I have no doubt that being depressed would have a positive correlation to a decrease in employee engagement…but a dip in engagement doesn’t necessarily mean that one is depressed.

I’d recommend that you ensure that you are creating an environment of trust at all times. Create a sincere and genuine relationship with your employees so that if they need to talk to you about what is on their minds or share that they are undergoing treatment that they feel safe to disclose. I have no doubt that as HR professionals that you’d handle it discretely and professionally to work with that employee and manager to make reasonable accommodations.  However, a great relationship built on trust can also help open the door to talk about changes in behavior or things that might be out of the norm for that employee that might suggest that they are disengaged. Imagine the difference if you could openly and honestly talk about why someone might be disengaged before it becomes a larger issue.

A great relationship also shows that you care and that you notice changes that may be going on – and you can point them out as matters of conversation and not a coachable moment. Keep the right line of “friend” to keep it professional, but as of late, I’m starting to think that there is just a lack of genuine compassion for others in the workplace. Life happens outside of the office (and sometimes, in the office) and people carry that with them. It can (and does) impact engagement and maybe even depression.

There is also a need to put in place a good EAP (employee assistance program), provisions for counseling visits, and/or a neutral ombudsman.  You don’t have to do all three, but make sure that if something is going on with your employees, that they have some options to work it out.  Do know that all of these programs, while options, have different purposes — you’ll need to make sure that it is clearly defined and well marketed to your employees. They should be able to access these with little to know effort (without having to draw a whole lot of attention to it if they want to use them.) We’d all like to think that if people have problems that they will go to the source and work it out, but the truth is, that often doesn’t happen. So provide other avenues and don’t be offended if they don’t come to you but choose another means — just be happy that they went somewhere.

IMHO, you don’t need to know the difference — but understand that they are not the same thing. Don’t just jump to “disengaged employee” mode and try to attack the problem from that angle. It could be something way bigger. You do need to know when something is different or out of character — take note, be supportive, and leverage a great relationship to help your employee back get what they need to be happy and productive. And remember… you may not even see the signs of depression … Give them the right tools and the option to make choices to help them get back to where they want to be.

Making the HR connection, yours,

 
 
 
 
photo credit: http://curitibainenglish.com.br
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