Last year, I had the opportunity to teach a seminar to the upper level management of a large East Coast restaurant company, on mental health in the workplace. More and more, it has become imperative for employers to address mental health problems in the workplace. One in five adults experience depression during their lifetime. And yet, a distinct stigma still exists around the topic, especially in the workplace. Employees may be hesitant to speak up about mental health issues for fear of being unfairly judged, or worries that it may lead to a reduction in job status, loss of future opportunities or even termination.
The World Health Organization lists depression as the leading cause of disability worldwide. Calling in sick to work because of depression is a common occurrence. In fact there’s been an uptick in depression in the workplace since the pandemic. Many people are struggling to meet their deadlines, not logging on, skipping meetings, struggling with technology glitches, and the added stress of distractions and responsibilities in the household.
But beyond the negative personal impacts that stress, anxiety, or depression can cause, it can actually take a toll on the business itself. Depressed, anxious, stressed, sleep-deprived, or substance using workers can be unproductive, forgetful, and accident-prone. If it’s a service organization, they may not be able to work effectively with customers or they may call out more, which can interfere with scheduling and productivity.
Signs of Workplace Depression
Depression in the workplace can be invisible and go undetected. However, there are noticeable signs that could initiate a conversation. Perhaps you’ve noticed a colleague who’s been keeping to themselves lately, or an employee who’s been coming late to meetings or missing them entirely. Other signs include becoming easily frustrated, irritable, or overwhelmed.
Tips for Supervisors:
*Be a listener and sounding board.
Managers/supervisors should create opportunities for confidential, nonjudgmental conversations, like weekly or biweekly one-on-ones, where they can openly ask the individual what’s going on and how they can help, while assuring them it’s a safe place to chat. While some people may not open up to their supervisors for fear of judgement and job security, kindness from a manager could shift the trajectory of someone’s day.
*Maintain an open-ended conversation
Employees should feel supported by their colleagues and bosses, especially during personal hardships. These should be ongoing conversations. Offering a book, or sharing an article or mental health website are also indirect helpful ways to maintain a conversation.
*Provide effective mental health resources at work
Now’s the time to review what mental health resources are available at your company, regardless of whether you’re employed at a large corporation or a small local business.
Every organization needs to look at itself. Are there regular educational seminars or information being made available online or in pamphlets, guest speaker events or trainings, or other ways employees can get information on physical and mental health issues? This can include employee assistance programs, maintaining a list of mental health resources, and establishing connections with community services, such as mental health workers and clinics.
Sometimes one company can help shift an entire culture. If you see that your company or organization is lacking in support of those dealing with mental health issues, be the person to help change the stigma and impact your work’s environment.
The powerful first step: “Are you OK?”
Tips for Employees:
If you’re too depressed to work:
First and foremost: If you’re having trouble working during a depressive episode, don’t beat yourself up over it. This is not something you can “snap out” of with willpower. Many people become depressed or anxious about being depressed or anxious.
- Take short breaks with a meditation app when you need them.
- Get outside for a walk in the fresh air.
- Go to the gym on your lunch breaks.
- Pack or prep a nutrition-filled lunch.
- Maintain good sleep hygiene. It will help you stay rested, regulate mood and your mental state.
- Check in regularly with a trusted friend or colleague. I call this an emotion buddy or coach.
What to do if you can’t work
*Disability benefits are an option.
Some states offer this on a temporary basis. On a federal level, the Social Security and Supplemental Security Income disability programs will provide your retirement benefits early (including Medicare). Many companies also offer short term and long term disability possibilities. Depression and anxiety disorders are an illness, not a weakness.
*Remember that you’re not alone.
Dark thoughts can be especially heavy during this time, so reach out to family and friends for support. The Suicide Prevention Lifeline has a website and can be reached 24/7 at 800-273-8255, should you need it. Seeking professional counseling can also make a world of difference.
*If you don’t feel like your work is meaningful and/or the environment is dreadful, you’re not in a good place. It may be time to move jobs. ￼Again, it’s important to note that depression is the leading cause of disability worldwide.
*For those returning to work, you could talk to your supervisors about working from home options to avoid some triggers.
*You can obtain a note from your treating psychologist or physician documenting your treatment. Under ADA law, companies cannot harass or terminate people for absences due to medical treatment.
For additional resources see, Wellness in the Restaurant and Bar Industry.