While holiday cheer is a great thing for many of us, some of us suffer from depression, and the holidays can be an additional stressor. "High expectations, money woes, and other holiday hazards can spell trouble for anyone, but especially those prone to depression," according to Health.com. So, what should you do in the office? What warning signs should you look for in your employees?
I turned to Licensed Professional Counselor, Stephanie Meldrum, to help guide managers through what can be a difficult situation. She immediately set me straight: "We wouldn't write an article helping managers look for signs of other illnesses that employees were trying to keep private. But somehow we treat depression differently, when in reality, many illnesses can impact an employee's work performance."
This is an excellent point. While we want to be compassionate and jump in and help, we need to realize our boundaries. Managers and Human Resources departments aren't counselors or experts in mental health, any more than we're experts in skin cancer. We don't spend a great deal of time talking with our employees about how to prevent or treat skin cancer, so why would we focus on mental health?
Of course, if you suspect you should act, but from a business standpoint. Meldrum emphasizes that it's critical to keep the relationship professional and business focused. "My general recommendation would probably be to have a conversation about the work performance issues only, and then ask a question like 'Are there any contributing factors that are getting in your way of making changes? Would a referral to the EAP for support be helpful?'"
EAPs, or Employee Assistance Programs can be extremely helpful in helping employees navigate many difficult areas in their lives, from mental health issues to financial and legal struggles. If your business doesn't have an EAP in place, it's not too late to invest. They are surprisingly cheap as far as employee benefits go and can provide invaluable help to a struggling employee. They operate strictly confidentially, so you'll know that an employee called, but not which one did. (And if your EAP doesn't operate this way, it's time to change providers.)
Meldrum advises against getting too involved in an employees' problems, whether they are mental health issues or other issues. Your role, as a manager, is to manage and make the business run, not serve as a therapist. Taking on the therapist role can make things awkward when you later have to discipline or even terminate an employee. Don't expect HR to pick up the therapist role either. They aren't qualified.
Another responsibility for management is to ensure that support and "reasonable accommodations" are given. The Americans with Disability Act (ADA) requires that you make reasonable adjustments for someone who qualifies. Depression certainly fits this category. ADA requires the employee to request an accommodation, but not all employees know that such things are available. A good manager will ensure that her employees are aware that help and accommodations are available.
Additionally, if the Family Medical Leave Act applies in your business (over 50 employees, and one year of service), make sure your employee knows that that is a distinct possibility. Most of us know about FMLA for things like broken legs, surgeries, and new babies, but it doesn't have to be used in huge chunks of time. Intermittent FMLA can be used for medical appointments, for instance, if the condition applies.
The manager's obligation, according to Meldrum, is to make the employee aware of the company provided help, but more importantly to make sure the employee understands where his job stands. She suggests, saying, "here are some things that must change about your performance, and I support you in seeking whatever support you need to make those changes." This way the employee knows you've got her back, but that she needs to keep up performance as well.
You can, of course, post a sign in the break room with information on depression and the available help, but overall, respect an employee's right to keep their internal struggles quiet.