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Aside from a responsibility to staff, organisations perform better when their staff are healthy, motivated and focused. Smart employers support employees dealing with depression and other mental health problems. This support is key in determining how well and how quickly they are able to get back to peak performance. Standing by people when they experience depression is not only about keeping hold of a valuable employee, it demonstrates an organisation’s values and shows employees that they care. These are key factors in employee engagement and organisations that support their staff often reap the benefits with loyalty and commitment from their employees.  


We all have mental health. It can vary on a daily basis from good to bad and is impacted by a vast myriad of factors in both our work and personal lives. It shouldn’t be a taboo topic and starting a conversation about it doesn’t have to be difficult. We, at People Vision, have put together this guide to help you not only identify employees experiencing depression but also start a conversation with them and provide the support they need.  


What Does Depression Look Like? 


Depression is a complex illness and every individual will have their own unique experience. However, in many cases this experience will be far from the stereotypical image of a sad, emotional living in social isolation. Instead, many sufferers can appear completely ‘fine’ and, in fact, many are well versed in concealing their true emotions or are simply unaware of them.   


Depression can often be mistaken for simply feeling sad. This results in a dismissal of a depressed individual which can leave them feeling invalidated, unheard and misunderstood which can throw them further into a depressive state. In reality, the two are world apart and it is important that employers can not only understand this fact but differentiate between the two. Therefore, we’ve put together this comparison table that breaks down the differences between sadness and depression. 


So, we’ve established that depression isn’t just being sad but what is it then? What does it look like? Well, depression has a range of symptoms: some physical, other mental or behavioural. However, it’s important to stress that each individual will experience and showcase different symptoms as no cases is ever identical.  


Beginning with physical symptoms, there are a number but the most common involve unexplained aches or pains. This is the bodies way of signalling that something is wrong. Those dealing with depression often struggle to express or exhibit the tumultuous emotions they’re experiencing. However, the body has to let them out somehow and it’s often through pain. Examples include headaches akin to a migraine or nausea and stomach pain. These two are often reason that employees cite when calling in sick, so in these instances it is often worth following up and asking how they are feeling mentally.  


Where physical symptoms are concerned, it can often be difficult to confirm that the cause is depression. Therefore, we recommend you look out for behavioural changes as there are far more obvious and easier to spot. These can include: 


  • Changes in people’s behaviour or mood or how they interact with colleagues. 

  • Changes in their work output, motivation levels and focus. 

  • Struggling to make decisions, get organised and find solutions to problems. 

  • Appearing tired, anxious or withdrawn and losing interest in activities and tasks they previously enjoyed. 

  • Changes in eating habits, appetite and increased smoking and drinking. 


Again, it is important to remember that there is no universal template for depression and each individual will experience and showcase any number of these symptoms. Regardless, if you notice them over a sustained period, it is important to check in with them.  


Starting the Conversation 


Sometimes people can worry about how to approach a conversation about a person’s mental health but there are no special skills needed. Instead, you just need the ones managers use every day, such as common sense, empathy, being approachable and listening. If you do nothing, problems can spiral, with a negative impact for individuals and organisations. 


If you think a member of your team may be experiencing a mental health problem, you may need to take the lead and raise this with them, as people often don’t feel able to bring it up themselves. Sometimes when managers lack confidence about mental health, they may make this conversation overly formal or pass it on to HR. However, as their manager, you will know your employee best and it’s important you take the lead and talk with them yourself. The way managers behave and the relationship they have with their team are key factors in shaping how employees respond when they’re experiencing depression or any mental health problem. It’s vital that managers start this process off in a positive and supportive way. Here are 5 steps to make sure this happens: 


  • Choose an appropriate place – somewhere private and quiet where the person feels comfortable. Possibly a neutral space outside of the workplace.  

  • Encourage people to talk – ask simple, open and non-judgmental questions and let people explain, in their own words, their depression, how it impacts on their work and what support they need.  

  • Don’t make assumptions – don’t try to guess what symptoms an employee might have, how these might affect their ability to do their job and what support they may need. 

  • Listen to people and respond flexibly – everyone’s experience of depression is different so treat people as individuals and focus on the person, not the problem. Adapt your support to suit the individual and their specific needs.  

  • Be honest and clear – if there are specific grounds for concern, like high absence levels or impaired performance, it’s important to address these at an early stage.  


Providing Support 


Right, you’ve started a conversation with an employee about their depression. Now the priority is to develop steps that can help with the key issues they’re struggling with. Clear policies on workplace adjustments are crucial to support staff in coping with their mental health and reduce the length of any related absences. These steps can be small and simple adjustments to someone’s job role or extra support from their manager. It should be noted that effective steps tend to be very individual. For this reason, it’s vital you have a meaningful conversation with your employee about their needs and really listen to them.  


  • Be positive – focus on what employees can do, rather than what they can’t.  

  • Work together and involve people in finding solutions as much as possible. 

  • Remember people are often the expert when it comes to identifying the support or adjustment they need and how to manage their triggers for poor mental health.  


While voluntary and agreed adjustments are supportive, it’s important that people are not treated differently or asked to do things that others are not required to. This could be considered discriminatory. 

There are huge number of ways that support can be provided for those struggling with depression. Below, we’ve provided some of the best but this is far from an exhaustive list and we encourage you to come up with your own ad experiment where appropriate.  


Changes to how people perform their role

  • Flexible hours or change to start/finish time.  

  • For shift workers not working nights or splitting up their days off to break up the working week can also help. 

  • Change of workspace – e.g. quieter, more/ less busy, dividing screens. 

  • Working from home (although it’s important to have regular phone catch ups so people remain connected and don’t feel isolated) 

  • Return-to-work policies (e.g. phased return – reduced hours gradually building up). 

  • Relaxing absence rules and limits for those with disability-related sickness absence. 

  • Agreement to give an employee leave at short notice and time off for appointments related to their mental health, such as therapy and counselling. 


Changes to the role itself (temporary or permanent) 

  • Reallocation of some tasks or changes to people’s job description and duties.  

  • Redeployment to a more suitable role. 

  • Training and support to apply for vacancies and secondments in other departments. 

How to Support Employees with Depression in the Workplace 


The last two years have not been fun. A global pandemic, confusing government advice, social restrictions, and concern for loved ones have made for a difficult period. Many have tried to make the best of it but for some, the pandemic has pushed their mental health into a downward spiral ending in depression. Studies have found a significant increase in the percentage of adults showcasing moderate or severe symptoms of depression over the last 12 months alone. Regardless of age or gender, this a clear and concerning trend. Therefore, it is more important than ever for organisations to show their employees they care and provide sufficient resources and support.  

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We hope you enjoyed our article please call us on 0345 4599710 or email where we will be happy to support you.

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