How to support depressed workers and reduce absenteeism

As a consulting psychologist, my official job is to provide psychological services to the residents of the nursing homes in which I work. Occasionally, though, I’m asked by a department head to informally assist a staff member in distress and, more frequently, a teammate comes to me for a referral for herself or a family member.

And then there are the times that I reach out to a coworker whom I see needs a hug, an acknowledgement or a few words of encouragement.

Based on a study reported in BMJ Open last month, it turns out that I’m not just being of service to my coworkers. I’m also helping to keep them on the job.

The study examined the way managers handle feelings of depression in their team members across 15 different countries. They looked at whether their reactions influenced absenteeism or presenteeism, which refers to attending work but with reduced productivity.

The researchers found that managers who acknowledged depression and actively offered help fostered greater presenteeism and less absenteeism.

The authors recommended that, given the prevalence and substantial costs of depression in the workplace1, attention be paid to developing policies and training that allow managers to better support employees who are experiencing depression. Training managers to recognize and attend to depressed workers makes it more likely that they’ll intervene before symptoms and productivity costs worsen.

Of particular interest given long-term care’s typical workforce is that the results of the study suggest that, “female individuals with low education and those in the middle age group (25–44) might need more support in the workplace.”


Clearly, it’s not a good idea for managers to spontaneously hug all the coworkers they think might be depressed. (For the record, I approach only people I know relatively well and I always ask the person if they’d like a hug before hugging!)

Instead, consider these other ideas:

  • At a minimum, add a section on recognizing employee depression to in-service trainings already in place for addressing depression in residents. Distribute an up-to-date list of local mental health providers at the end of the program for attendees who might want to access services on their own.

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How to support depressed workers and reduce absenteeism

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