Depression is a state of mind that causes an individual to feel persistently in a bad mood. It affects several aspects of an individual since it influences the behaviour, feelings and thoughts of the person (Cohen 1980, p. 90). Therefore, depression is a form of psychological distress that affects the overall quality of an individual’s life. Studies have shown that the socio-economic circumstances may contribute to the development of mental illness. It is suggested that individuals with lower socio-economic status are at a higher risk of developing mental illnesses (Australian Bureau of Statistics, 2013). The mental disorders that are likely to occur due to socio-economic circumstances such as employment include depression and other anxiety disorders.
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Studies have shown that there are several types of psychological distress and some include health-related distress and general psychological distress (Muniret al. 2007, p. 5). Depression is an example of general psychological distress. Health-related distress mainly comes about due to the person’s health condition and the factors that characterise those conditions. Examples include the demands associated with the illness and the necessary adjustments to be made. This paper will examine the impacts of depression on the employees’ work performance and attendance and look at how managers can deal with hidden depression in such employees.
Impact of Depression on Employees’ Work Performance and Attendance
Individuals suffering from chronic illnesses such as diabetes, heart disease and cancers may experience distress that would eventually affect their quality of life (Muniret al. 2007, p. 4). The particular factors that bring about such feelings include the status of the illness in terms of severity. Others include fatigue and pain that are associated with the illness. Such distress has been shown to affect the individual’s functioning and result in poor coping skills and poor self-management skills.
Research has suggested that the workplace has the potential to influence distress. It has been documented that about 20% of all employees may be suffering from a chronic illness. From this number about 5% of the health conditions are caused by work-related issues. The factors at the workplace that have been shown to contribute to chronic illnesses include low support and high work demand (Kessler et al. 2001, p. 218). Distress at the workplace has also been associated with general life events, presenteeism, absenteeism and having a poor balance between work and life. Employees in such conditions need to manage both their illnesses and their experience at work.
A study by Lorenzo (2013) focused on the problem of mental illness in the workplace and its effect on workplace performance and attendance. The need for this study arose since mental illness affects between 17% and 20% of the working-age population. In addition to this, the victims do not easily reveal their illnesses to their colleagues. For this reason, the cases of mental illness increase without the knowledge of the managers and human resource personnel. Workers with hidden mental illnesses are likely to have issues with performance and attendance. Therefore, they are placed in a position whereby they are prone to termination.
Mental illnesses such as depression affect the employees in several ways. One of the ways includes cognitive impairment. When this occurs, employees’ performance and attendance may likely be affected. This puts such employees at a disadvantaged position as compared to their able-bodied colleagues. Mental illness, just like any other illness, has an effect on presenteeism. Mentally ill employees may just report to work as usual but due to their condition, their ability to perform their duties is impaired. Apart from reduced performance, mental illness may have an effect on the person’s ability to ensure his or her personal safety at the workplace. They might not attend to their work in such a way as to allow them to take due care. The operational managers, on the other hand, may not be of great help in such situations especially if the affected employees purposefully conceal such illnesses.
The mentally ill employees or those with depression may appear to be having performance and attendance issues especially if they are unable to manage their symptoms. Their behaviours may mimic those of individuals with poor work ethics rather than those of an ill individual. In a particular study to investigate the issue of depression, the results suggested that only few individuals actually take sick leaves in order to manage symptoms of depression. About 46,000 out of 200,000 participants acknowledged that they were experiencing mild or severe depression. Forty one percent of the total number reported high levels of presenteeism. One thing that can be obtained from this research is that there was poor attendance.
However, the greatest problem was the issue of presenteeism. Despite reporting to work as usual, the performance of the depressed individuals would be impaired due to their conditions (Lener & Henke 2008, p. 403). Therefore, managers should not merely translate good employee attendance to imply good performance because it does not guarantee the workers’ engagement to the work at hand. It has been suggested that it is for this reason that absenteeism cannot be used as the only measure while assessing performance (Lorenzo 2013, p. 6).
A different study concluded that depressed individuals missed work more often than those who were not depressed. Studies have shown that common mental health conditions lead to increased levels of absenteeism since a large proportion of the sick days are attributed to such health conditions. Meanwhile, anxiety and depression accounted for high levels of presenteeism. It is also important to note that 20% of employees who reported to have common mental health conditions argued that the nature of the job caused or at least contributed to their mental illness.
It has been suggested by many researchers that organizations suffer greater losses from hidden costs associated with presenteeism rather than absenteeism. This may be the case since employees suffering from depression or other similar mental illnesses may opt not to ask for sick leave since they believe that their conditions may not warrant a reason to miss work. Therefore, they come to work but do not put as much input as required. Employers, however, may positively influence outcomes by addressing the issue of depression at the workplace.
A Harvard study also looked into the issue of costs associated with mental illnesses such as depression. From the study, it was evident that organizations spent more when it came to paying pharmaceutical and medical costs for depressed individuals. Treating health issues related to anxiety was placed 5th in terms of costliness. However, absenteeism and presenteeism proved most costly due to the hidden costs associated with them.
Halpern (2005, p. 158) argued that workplace-related stress comes about as the demand at work becomes incompatible with the normal functioning of the individual’s body. This is particularly when referring to the mental regulation processes. These processes may include movement, information processing and planning. When great levels of stress are prolonged, this translates to negative health outcomes. Stressors are known to initiate the production of certain hormones in the body that travel through the circulatory system and cause adverse effects on certain organs. The effects of stress from the daily hassles may be exacerbated when it is combined with more stressful events in life.
The job itself may be a source of stress for employees. Stress at the workplace may be as a result of conflicting aspects of the job. An example may be the pressure to complete a demanding task within an unrealistically short period or with unrealistic levels of accuracy. Another example includes job demands that conflict with other roles of the individual (Sarget & Terry 1998, p. 220). This may be in the case of a parent being expected to be at work when he or she should be at home attending to a sick child. Studies have shown that stressed individuals are at high risk of becoming ill.
A particular study experimented with the common cold. Individuals who were experiencing chronic stress showed worse symptoms and higher levels of the virus. In this case, the stressors were mainly work-related. It was surprising to note that incidence of colds were not greatly affected by other factors such as poor diet and smoking. From this study, it would be correct to say that intensive stress levels may impair the immune system’s functionality. For this reason, it is easy for such individuals to fall ill.
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Separate research has discussed stigmatising beliefs about depression (Barney et al. 2009, p. 1). It has been hypothesised that stigma related to depression may substantially affect persons suffering from depression. Such individuals may assume that talking about their mental condition with others would be followed by negative responses. For this reason, they may opt to avoid seeking help. This may also lead to misdiagnosis since the individuals may not disclose such details to health practitioners while seeking treatment. It may also lead to treatment discontinuation by the affected individuals.
Depression is generally viewed negatively by the society. Such victims are perceived to be hard to relate with and assumed to be threats due to their unpredictability. The general public also consider medication and psychological help a waste of resources. Depressed individuals may find difficulty disclosing their issues to informal sources such as family members and friends (colleagues). Therefore, it is clear that stigma about depression is a real issue in all areas including the workplace.
Westman and Etzion (2001) investigated the impact of vacation on psychological and behavioural strains that arose from stressors at the workplace. Previous studies had indicated that job stressors resulted in behavioural, psychological and physical strains. These included physical ailments such as high cholesterol and high blood pressure. The psychological strains included burnout and anxiety. The behavioural strains that may be experienced include absenteeism and low performance. Burnout has been largely studied as a common result of exposure to chronic daily stress.
Apart from causing deteriorated performance, burnout may also cause the affected to have negative attitudes towards themselves and towards their colleagues. Since stress comes about when the job demands exceed the person’s resources, the most likely reaction is avoidance. Withdrawing from the job demands reduces the impacts of the stressors. Therefore, absenteeism becomes the most likely form of avoidance when it comes to a job situation (Westman and Etzion, 2001, p. 96). This occurs when an employee resorts to engaging in non-work activities.
How Managers Can Deal With Hidden Depression in Employees
Managers may assist employees who are dealing with hidden depression in many ways. If work-related issues cause stress, one of the ways of providing relief would be by putting in place time-flexible work policies. Policies should be put in place so as to allow employees to be able to properly manage their workplace obligations and family obligations (Halpern, 2005, p. 159). These policies should work best if the employee would be able to manage both of these without having to choose between them. For example, flexibility in working hours may provide employees with the opportunity to attend to other obligations such as family obligations without missing out on work time.
With such options at the workplace, employees may experience greater job satisfaction and increased loyalty to the employer. This may also translate to greater performance and attendance. Employers who ensure that employees have a balance between work-life and family-life put in place a great investment since this would translate to lower costs especially when cost of medication is considered. Such employees become less stressed and are not likely to suffer from stress-related illnesses.
For the case of stigmatization of depression, managers should purpose to provide early intervention and provide treatment for depression. In order to get the affected employees to open up and talk about their mental illnesses (depression), managers should help change the beliefs and perceptions about depression. This applies for both the victim and the colleagues. Some studies have also suggested that stigmatization may be reduced if terms such as mental illness are not used to refer to depression.
Westman and Etzion (2001, p. 102) found out that vacation relief decreased the psychological and behavioural strains that resulted from exposure to job stressors. This reduced burnout and resulted in increased performance and reduced absenteeism. Therefore, managers need to regulate vacations with accordance to stressful situations. However, the most effective solution may be the preventative measures such as reducing workload and ambiguity. Managers should opt for the easier option of ensuring preventive stress management rather than dealing with the outcomes of stress.
Several studies have provided evidence to show that depression is a mental disorder that is likely to stem from job-related stress. Depression is known to lead to other health complications that may affect the lifestyle of the individual. It has been shown that persons suffering from depression mainly suffer in silence because they find it difficult disclosing the illness due to the stigma associated with it. Depression that results from stressors in the workplace results in reduced performance and also affects attendance. Depressed employees are likely to practice avoidance of the stressors and this may be in terms of avoiding work and doing other activities.
For this reason, organizations suffer hidden costs stemming from absenteeism, presenteeism and reduced performance (Kalia 2002, p. 50). In order to reduce these costs and to ensure increased performance and improved attendance, managers should help reduce job-related stress by reducing workload and providing flexible working schedules. Studies have shown that organizations should work towards preventing stress (depression) rather than waiting to treat its outcome.
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