Managerial support for depressed employees linked to fewer sick days

Managerial support for depressed employees has been linked to them taking fewer days off work according to an international survey of practice in 15 countries including the UK.

Picture: TSPL

The findings bolster the case for active mental health policies in the workplace,

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 London School of Economics and Political Science (LSE). Published in the medical journal BMJ Open, the study 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.

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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 16 per cent of those questioned said their managers had offered proactive support. In Great Britain, the figure was 53 per cent.

Dr Sara Evans Lacko, Associate Professorial Research Fellow at LSE 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.”

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 the UK 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 Lacko added: “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.”