Opening up about depression boosts productivity

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​Employees able to speak openly about their depression with managers are more productive, according to the London School of Economics and Political Science (LSE)​

Published in medical journal BMJ Open, the LSE's research revealed that employees' productivity levels improved by 6% when they were open about their depression at work. Researchers also found that their levels of absenteeism were reduced by as much as 11 days over 24 months.

The study looked at depression in the workplace in 15 countries, including the UK, and is the first to compare openness about depression and workplace productivity in high-income countries with middle- and low-income countries.

Researchers found that more employees living in high-income countries reported a diagnosis of depression. People living in Mexico were most likely to report that their manager had offered to help with their depression (67%). This was in contrast with Japan where only 16% of those questioned said their managers had offered proactive support. In Britain the figure was 53%.

People living in South Korea (30%) and China (27%) were most likely to say their manager had avoided talking about their depression. Denmark had the most open managers, with only 2% of respondents saying that their manager had avoided the issue. In the UK this figure was 3%.

Individuals with higher levels of education took more days off than those with lower levels of education, as did those working in smaller companies in comparison to those in larger firms.

The LSE study cited separate research that found around 70% of people with mental illness, including depression, conceal their condition. Fear of stigma and discrimination in finding and keeping jobs contributed to this.

Sara Evans-Lacko, associate professorial research fellow in the personal social services research unit at LSE and co-author of the paper, said that training is needed to help employers understand the signs of depression.

“Depression is an invisible illness and, up to a certain point, people can conceal it," she said. "A manager might recognise that an employee’s performance is suffering but not the reason behind that, or they may feel that the issue is too taboo to discuss openly.

"More training and better workplace policies could help managers to recognise symptoms sooner and provide support – helping the individual and reducing the cost to employers at the same time.”

She added that while mental illness can have consequences for individuals and organisations, it is possible to overcome the issue through offering support.

“Mental illnesses, including depression, have a huge personal and economic impact," she said. "Our research shows that where employers create a culture of avoidance around talking about depression, employees themselves end up avoiding work and even when they return to work they are not as productive as they could be. Such situations could be transformed by managers providing more proactive support to people dealing with these issues.”

The researchers analysed data from the Global IDEA (Impact of Depression in the Workplace in Europe Audit) and online research panels.

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