It’s good to talk! Openness about depression in workplace increases productivity

Mental illnesses, including depression, have a huge personal and economic impact
- Sara Evans Lacko
20180717_Workplacedepression Working with depression short film

Employees who feel able to speak openly about their depression with their managers are more productive at work than employees whose managers avoid talking to them about their condition, says new research from the Personal Social Services Research Unit.

Published in the medical journal BMJ Open, the research also reveals that employees with depression, whose managers do not offer them support, take more days off of work. 

Dr Sara Evans Lacko, Associate Professorial Research Fellow and co-author of the paper, said: “Mental illnesses, including depression, have a huge personal and economic impact. 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 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. The 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 per cent). This was in contrast with Japan where only 16 per cent of those questioned said their managers had offered proactive support. In Great Britain, the figure was 53 per cent.

People living in South Korea (30 per cent) and China (27 per cent) were most likely to say their manager had avoided talking about their depression. Denmark had the most supportive managers with only two per cent of respondents saying that their manager had avoided the issue. In Great Britain the figure was 3 per cent.

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 who work in larger companies.

Dr Sara Evans Lacko said: “Depression is an invisible illness and, up to a certain point, people can conceal it. 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.”

Other research has found that about 70 per cent of people with mental illness, including depression, conceal their condition, fear of stigma and discrimination in finding and keeping jobs contributes to this fear. One in 6.8 people experience mental health problems in the workplace (14.7%) (2)

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

Behind the article

(1) A copy of ‘Is manager support related to workplace productivity for people with depression: A secondary analysis of a cross-sectional survey from 15 countries’ by Sara Evans-Lacko and Martin Knapp.

(2) Lelliott, P., Tulloch, S., Boardman, J., Harvey, S., & Henderson, H. (2008). Mental health and work.