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Managers with experience know that their job is really two-fold; one has to be a manager of a business and a manager of people at the same time. This can prove to be tricky as sometimes these two roles can collide. Employees with emotional or personal problems can and do effect productivity in a business, so management must find a balance between helping that employee reach their potential and maintaining the needs of the business.
I have dealt with many different employee problems throughout my career that I never imagined I would face. I have spent hours on the phone with battered women’s shelters trying to get a room for an employee and her four children, helped to find elder-care for another employee’s mother, and developed a trading program on the job to help a teenager with her progress in school. All of these things were challenges that had relatively concrete answers. One problem that is far less easy to handle is depression, which is much more common in the workplace than many people might think.
Depression in the workplace exists in every industry, and can cost companies a lot of money. An employer can feel the effect of a depressed worker through missed days of work, decreased productivity, and in cases of public service jobs, poor customer service experiences. Depression is never something that people are proud of, so they will not come to you and tell you what the problem is. As a good manager, it is your job to spot the warning signs and react appropriately.
There are several things to be on the lookout for when dealing with employees who may be depressed. The biggest thing is extreme changes in your worker. Someone who used to have reliable attendance is now late or absent frequently. They have a bad or negative attitude about work, they have become irritable. They are fatigued, and don’t seem to be able to produce at the same rate that they used to. Your employee has stopped paying attention to their appearance and hygiene.
Managers must be careful when dealing with people who show signs that can be attributed to depression., as scolding them publicly or privately can exacerbate the situation. I have always found in situations like this it is best to sit the associate down in a neutral setting and simply ask the employee what they feel is affecting their performance. Many times they will give you an answer if you approach the situation in a calm manner. You can then formulate a plan to help them with their issues. If they do not wish to respond, it may help to mirror back to them your observations about their performance. This needs to be specific, with dates and times, otherwise they may feel that you are exaggerating or punishing them unfairly. Many companies offer resources to full-time employees, including access to counselors. Be sure that when you are ready to sit down for this conversation that you go in armed with as many resources for this individual as possible. Educate yourself about depression before sitting down with the employee so that you can truly empathize with them.
Depression can be caused by many things. The sudden loss of a loved one, loss of a home, or a serious illness in the family are obvious causes. Some people are genetically pre-disposed to depression. Certain medical issues can trigger depression as well as drug use. Stress at work can also be a contributing factor. You may not be aware that you employee is dealing with any of these issues, but if you have been made aware of a situation, it may help you determine if there is a deeper problem.
Remember that your employees may spend more time with you and your company than they do at home. You may be the first person in their life to recognize there is a problem. Some managers may not feel comfortable having these types of conversations. If this is the case, partner with your human resources personnel to come up with a course of action. Helping depressed employees seek assistance is your responsibility as a manager and as a member of society. Depression is a serious illness that will touch us all in our lifetime in someway or another, having people who care helps those stricken with it realize that there is hope.