Depression in the Workplace: How Employee Assistance Programs Can Help

Earlier this summer, the world lost someone near and dear to many of our hearts – comedian and actor Robin Williams – to an apparent suicide. It’s difficult to understand how someone so talented and funny could be quietly suffering on the inside. However, his tragic death is a reminder to all of us of the very real and very serious presence of anxiety and depression in our daily lives regardless of whether we ourselves or a close friend or family member suffers from these afflictions. 

According to the National Institute for Mental Health, 6.7% of US adults experience major depressive disorder each year. Take a minute and think about this statistic in relation to your workforce – how many of your employees could be affected?

Depression may manifest itself in any number of ways in the workplace, including decreased productivity, morale problems, lack of cooperation, safety risks and accidents, absenteeism, complaints of being tired all the time or of unexplained aches and pains, and/or alcohol and drug abuse, among others.

What’s an employer to do?

Employee Assistance Programs (EAPs) are worksite-based programs and/or resources designed to benefit both employers and employees by helping employees to identify and resolve personal concerns that affect job performance.

Employers have found that proactive, preventive efforts to help employees identify and resolve personal issues before they have serious medical, family, and/or workplace consequences make financial and business sense.

Through prevention, identification, and resolution of these issues, EAPs can enhance employee and workplace effectiveness and are a vital tool for maintaining and improving worker health and productivity, retaining valued employees, and returning employees to work after illnesses or injuries.

EAPs have been shown to contribute to:

  • Decreased absenteeism
  • Reduced accidents and fewer workers’ compensation claims
  • Increased employee retention
  • Fewer labor disputes
  • Reduced medical costs arising from early identification and treatment of individual mental health and substance use issues

EAPs are unique in that they provide services to individual employees and family members and to the employer/work organization as a whole.

EAP services to individuals include:

  • Mental health-related services and referrals
  • Drug- and alcohol-related services and referrals
  • Services and referrals related to personal issues such as divorce and parenting
  • Information on work/life supports, such as caregiving for elderly parents and financial planning
  • Wellness and health promotion services, such as smoking cessation and weight reduction
  • Work-related supports, such as career counseling

In addition, treatment through an EAP is confidential (unless an EAP counselor is legally required to disclose information such as child abuse) and will not become a part of their personnel records.

Whether you have or have not established an EAP or similar program, it is equally important to train your supervisors and managers to spot performance and morale issues when they occur and report them to the appropriate individuals, either within management or human resources, so the company can address the situation appropriately.

Supervisors should be trained to acknowledge an issue with a focus on the employee’s particular performance deficiency. For example, instead of asking “You seem depressed – is there something you would like to talk about?”, say “I have noticed you’ve been coming in late more frequently and that the product of your work has not been up to par. I do not know if this is the case for you, but you should know that if personal issues are affecting your work, the company offers an assistance program you can contact confidentially.”

Keeping your work and personal life in balance can sometimes be tricky and stressful situations can affect your health, well-being and ability to focus on what’s important. HRi offers a robust EAP through Unum – meaning – when you have questions, concerns or emotional issues surrounding your personal or work life, as an HRi client, you have unlimited access to consultants by telephone, resources and tools online and up to three face-to-face visits with counselors for help with a short-term problem.

Do you have an EAP established in your company? How have you or someone you know sought help from the program?