Tips for Assisting Employees with Depression and Anxiety Disorders

November 17, 2016

Anxiety and depression can prevent employees from taking advantage of job opportunities and may cause increasingly poor performance. Anxiety disorders are the most common form of mental illness in the United States. According to the National Institute of Mental Health, nearly 40 million adults between the ages of 18 and 54 suffer from an anxiety disorder. Many people with anxiety also suffer from depression and vice-versa. In order to ensure that employees are working at their full potential, employers can educate themselves on recognizing symptoms and responding positively to these mental illnesses.

It is important to note that anxiety and depression are very different from typical workplace stress. Nearly every single person has experienced work-related stress, particularly when a deadline is coming up; however, not every employee has experienced anxiety or depression. Those with anxiety can often feel as though their lives are out of control. As a result of this sensation, many people living with anxiety may avoid taking on additional tasks or even interacting with those around them. Employees with depression can often have issues concentrating and may generally seem less interested in the work they are performing.

Anxiety disorders and major depression are considered “emotional or mental illness[es]” that are covered under the Americans with Disabilities Act, which means that employers may need to provide reasonable accommodations for employees that have these illnesses. Formal accommodations may include shorter workweeks or allowing the employee to telecommute. In addition to providing formal accommodations, employers may implement informal policies to help support employees with need.

Maintaining a positive and supportive work environment can mitigate work-related issues experienced by those with mental illness, and lead to a more productive and unified workforce. Employers can use the following tips in order to help eliminate difficulties faced by employees with anxiety or depression:

  1. Create a welcoming environment. Work environments often dictate the overall mood of the workforce. Cluttered spaces and unpleasant attitudes can contribute to an employee’s anxiety or depression; therefore, employers may wish to discourage these and other unsavory behaviors. The best way to promote a positive and supportive work environment is by behaving in such a manner. Employers can endeavor to keep the workplace clean and organized. Additionally, employers may make an effort to be more positive around employees and avoid using language or attitudes that indicate a harsh tone.
  2. Have an open-door policy. Employees should feel comfortable going to their employers to discuss issues they are having at work. When employees communicate their concerns, the workplace can morph into a community, rather than just a place that gives a paycheck. Furthermore, open communication enables employers to become better equipped to take action to mitigate any problems.
  3. Identify behavior. In some instances, no matter how welcoming a place may be, employees may not want to divulge information about their mental health. Employers who are educated on traits and behavior that are typically associated with anxiety or depression, such as reduced productivity, nervousness, and poor interpersonal relationships, can take action without forcing the employee into the uncomfortable position of taking the first step.
  4. Respond appropriately. Employers may respond in a variety of ways when an employee goes to them about his or her mental illness, or when they notice employees demonstrating behavior associated with a mental illness. Employers should take mental illness seriously, and take steps to encourage additional communication with the individual employee so that appropriate accommodations can be made.
  5. Maintain confidentiality. As with any other health condition, once an employer becomes aware of an employee’s mental health, the employer should take all necessary steps in order to ensure that the employee’s information remains confidential. Not only will this increase the employee’s trust in the employer, but it will also help make the employee feel comfortable and supported.
  6. Make a plan. Employers can sit down with employees to discuss possible courses of action that would best enable the employee to continue performing his or her duties. By talking with the employee, an employer can gain an understanding of the employee’s concerns without making assumptions; and therefore, develop a plan that will balance the needs of both parties.
  7. Set expectations. An employer can also include what they expect from their employee when a plan of action is created. Giving an employee a concrete idea of what is expected enables employers to help curb anxiety and prevent confusion by providing a measure of predictability.
  8. Be flexible. Employees who have anxiety or depression can experience days where their symptoms are worse than others. Because of this, they might sometimes need additional time for assignments or adjustments in their workload. Employers can emphasize that modifications are available on a limited basis, but that they are granted with the expectation that the employee will make his or her best efforts to return to the original plan once better.
  9. Provide constructive feedback. Employers may wish to provide additional feedback to employees with anxiety or depression because it can help manage goals and expectations. Unfortunately, reviews might also increase an employee’s level of anxiety. In order to make reviews a more positive experience, it is especially important for employers to focus on things the employee is doing well and provide ways that certain tasks can be improved upon, rather than simply stating that something needs improvement.
  10. Offer support. Employers need to be supportive and empathetic of their employees’ situations. Demonstrating concern and approaching situations with understanding can have a great impact on an employee’s overall condition and attitude towards work.

Although more people are becoming educated about the causes and effects of mental illness, most still carry a stigma, which makes it difficult for affected individuals to seek help. These tips can help employers demonstrate that they genuinely support and care for their workforce, enabling employees to better handle their illnesses and concentrate on their work performance.

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