Sunday January 20 2013

Fight depression at workplaces

By Mutyaba Katamba

According to a 2002 American Psychiatry Association survey, depression was the illness that, more than any other, cost more in lost productivity in the US. Depression cost the US between $30 and $40 billion in 2002. Absenteeism due to depression made up 20 per cent of lost productivity while “presenteeism” made up 80 per cent of lost productivity.

“Presenteeism” – going to work but producing substandard work due to the mental effects of depression – is what makes depression a silent killer of productivity in the modern workplace. You will have employees at their duty station every day of the week, but at the end of every quarter, the organisation’s return on investment (ROI) will be in the negatives. Depression will affect productivity in any modern workplace. Depression will not spare your workplace.

Depression is a mental disorder that is characterized by two principal symptoms: Depressed mood most of the day and diminished interest or pleasure in all, or almost all activities most of the day (DSM-IV-TR, 2000).

Associated symptoms include significant changes in weight and sleep patterns; slowed or nervous psychomotor activity, fatigue, feelings of worthlessness, reduced ability to think/concentrate; and recurrent thoughts of death.

How do these symptoms affect productivity?
Depressed mood is, in simple terms, sadness. Sadness is a negative emotion. Tucker et al. (2000) has defined emotion as biologically based reactions that coordinate adaptive responding to important opportunities and challenges.

Research in neuropsychology has validated the role of emotions as motivators of human behavior. Research in socio-cognitive psychology has shown that although both negative and positive emotions have a role in maintaining the organism, for optimal adaptive and creative functioning one must mostly have a positive emotional profile.

With a negative mood most of the day, it goes without saying that a worker’s creativity and productivity will be significantly lowered. And in this era, depression will directly affect the output of an employee’s performance.

Lack of interest or pleasure in activities, the second principal symptom of depression, leads to a lack of mastery. If mastery is understood as control or superiority over someone or something (Oxford Concise Dictionary, 11th Ed.) then we realise that depression robs the worker of control over his/her skills; and if the worker is a manager, depression robs him/her of the ability to effectively guide and control his/her subordinates.

Loss of control over one’s skills (lack of creativity and diminished productivity) and inability to manage subordinates (poor leadership skills) will bury any organisation. And this is a result of depression, the silent killer of workplace productivity.

How can one mitigate the effects of depression in the workplace, and in the worker’s life?
• Do a stress audit of your organisation. Having a competent behavioural/mental health consultant help the organization develop a mental health policy is a step in the right direction.
• Ensure that individual employees know how to maintain their own good psycho-hygiene.

• If an employee has depression, empower him/her to have the courage to come out of the closet and get help from a professional mental health professional (e.g. a clinical psychologist).
Adequately handling depression in the workplace will not only stimulate growth and innovation, but will also contribute handsomely to the organisation’s financial bottom-line, its profit margin. Managing workplace depression ensures that employees will have the mental resources to proactively respond to any challenges and opportunities.

Take action today and nip depression in the bud.
Business Psychologist, Cartesia Corporate