What To Know About Work Depression, And How To Tackle It
Oct 30, 2023, 8 min read
Depression can be an upsetting and debilitating condition to live with, and if it is work-induced it can be extremely difficult to manage when the source of the depression is somewhere we must visit every day. The average hours spent working (by full-time UK employees) is 36.4 hours a week, so it is important to feel content when at work.
Here, we are looking at the causes of depression at work, how it relates to burnout and stress, whether working from home can help or make things worse, what to do if you are suffering from work depression, and what to do if someone in your organisation is showing signs of work depression.
At Augmentive, we aim to provide holistic, tailored mental health support to everyone so they can live their life to the fullest, so if you have questions about depression at work, we’re here to help.
What is work depression?
- Persistent feelings of sadness or hopelessness
- Loss of interest in usual activities or hobbies
- Lack of motivation
- Trouble focusing
- Trouble sleeping
When depression results from spending time in the workplace, it can be extremely difficult to manage since so much of our time is spent at work each week. Without support from the organisation, mental health conditions can impact confidence, productivity, motivation and more, and could result in more sickness, absences and staff turnover.
For these reasons, it is important that organisations pay attention to the mental health of their workforce and take preventative steps to ensure employees remain happy.
What are the signs of work depression?
Depression at work can cause general depression symptoms, but more specific to the workplace. For example:
- Feelings of sadness when attending or thinking about the workplace
- Lack of energy and motivation to perform at work
- Loss of job satisfaction
- Feelings of boredom when working
- Anxiety in stressful work situations
- Trouble focusing on work tasks or retaining information
- Taking excessive time off work, or arriving late and leaving early
How common is work depression?
Work-related depression is thought to be quite common, with an estimated 14.7% of people experiencing a mental health problem in the workplace, and one survey finding that 61% of employees aged 16-24 report experiencing symptoms of depression. A 2019 review also found shift workers – particularly women – have an increased risk of symptoms of depression.
“I had depression… you don’t even want to get out of bed, you just want to hide. I work in a room full of 30 or 40 people and I felt like I was the only person in there. You can feel so alone and you just want to hide in a cupboard. It’s like you’re in a little bubble.” - Anonymous, via Mind.org.uk
Is it work depression or burnout?
Studies have found a clear correlation between occupational burnout, stress and depression.
Stress refers to our reaction when under pressure, and it can bring feelings of anxiety, worry and tiredness. Studies suggest that social rank could be an indicator of being predisposed to stress susceptibility, and have found that dominant individuals tend to be more vulnerable. In the workplace, this could mean that managers are more susceptible to feeling the effects of stress.
Burnout is primarily related to overwhelming feelings of stress at work, and it can be described as a state of physical and emotional exhaustion. Long-term stress at work can result in burnout, and it can cause debilitating feelings like exhaustion, detachment from loved ones, and more.
You can read more about burnout in our article: Stress vs Burnout: What's The Difference?
While stress and burnout may produce symptoms of feeling overwhelmed and worried, depression can cause feelings of sadness and hopelessness, and can impact everything from sleeping to working.
What causes work depression?
Work depression can be caused by a number of things depending on the industry, environment and team you work within. Some things that might impact work depression include:
- A lack of control of workload
- An overwhelming workload, a lack of work life balance, and inadequate payment
- Shift work, or irregular/inflexible hours
- A lack of job security
- A toxic work environment such as competitive colleagues or harsh deadlines
- Unsafe working conditions
- Discrimination in the workplace
The workplace can be home to differing opinions and personalities, which is most often a positive thing. However, sometimes discrimination can occur (based on race, religion, gender identity, sexual orientation, disability, or something else), and negatively affect mental health. These instances should be reported as soon as possible, as no one should feel unsafe or discriminated against at work.
Can working from home cause depression?
Since the Covid-19 pandemic, working from home (or hybrid workplaces) have become the norm, with many businesses offering their employees more flexible hours and the opportunity to work from home, much like freelancers or self-employed people do. This can offer many benefits, but there are downsides, too.
Working remotely blurs the line between our personal lives and our job, which means our daily routine can start to break down. Without the clear structure of the working day – for example, the commute to work, meetings with colleagues, etc. – we may forget to prioritise our personal life and switch off our ‘work brain’ at the end of the day. This can cause employees to feel disorganised, lonely and out of sorts, which can lead to depression.
When working from home, it is important to:
- Stick to set working hours, and switch off at the end of the day
- Interact with colleagues regularly to keep up with team goals and avoid loneliness
- Choose at least one way to move your body each day, such as a walk in nature
- Set reminders to ensure you are eating healthy and drinking enough water each day
- Find ways to focus and stay motivated like putting your phone in a drawer to limit distractions
What to do if an employee has work depression
If you are an employer or HR professional looking to improve the mental health of employees in your organisation, there are a number of things you can do that can have a big impact on not only the individuals in the business, but also the company's bottom line.
According to the World Health Organization, a job should support positive mental health by providing a livelihood, a sense of confidence, purpose and achievement, an opportunity for positive relationships and inclusion in a community, and a platform for structured routines, among other benefits. These elements can help people with mental health issues recover, feel included, be confident and improve social functioning within the workplace.
An estimated 12 billion work days are lost each year due to depression and anxiety, and around 12.7% of all sickness absence days in the UK are thought to be due to mental health conditions. Organisations can benefit from investing in their employees’ mental health before they develop symptoms of depression, as only 10% of employees look for mental health support themselves.
You may notice symptoms of depression in co-workers such as withdrawal from team activities, disinterest in work goals, lower standard of work, absentmindedness, turning up late, being tired at work, low motivation and more.
If you see signs that an employee might have depression, some ways to help include:
- Offer flexibility: Allowing employees some agency over their working hours can help them feel more in control, which can improve their mindset around work. Their productivity may increase too, which would improve team efficiency.
- Break tasks down: Depression can sometimes develop over time due to an overwhelming workload. Instead of setting large goals, break them into smaller, more manageable ones and ensure employees understand and agree with the deadlines.
- Focus on positives: Employees can become overwhelmed with negative criticism, so it can be helpful to focus on acknowledging positive things that have been done well, rather than pointing out mistakes.
- Do a stress risk assessment: A risk assessment in the workplace is a tool to ensure the health and safety of employees and anyone else involved in the business that could be affected by its practices. You can read more about the benefits of this in our article: Why workplaces should do stress risk assessments
- Be approachable: Employees with depression can benefit from having a manager or HR professional who is approachable enough for them to discuss their worries and needs openly and honestly.
- Be proactive: Giving employees resources to manage their mental health can help them feel supported and safe in their employment. Offering an Employee Assistance Program (EAP) can encourage them to talk about mental health and show them that you genuinely want to help. Studies have found that therapy (such as Cognitive Behavioural Therapy) can help to reduce symptoms of depression.
What to do if you think you may have work depression
If you are struggling with depression at present due to your job – whether from a stressful workload, a toxic work culture or something else – addressing this as early as possible is important, since work depression can become worse the more time you spend at your job.
Work depression is no less serious than any other type or origin of depression, so you should still reach out to your GP or a private specialist to discuss how you are feeling and find out what treatment could be best for you. There are a number of things that individuals can do to ensure they stay healthy and happy at work and beyond. Studies have found that things like getting adequate sleep and moving your body throughout the day can improve existing symptoms of depression or keep it at bay in the future.
Although studies have identified ways to stay healthy and avoid depression symptoms, the general consensus is that it is better to take preventative measures against depression than to treat it retroactively.
In the modern-day work environment, mental health should be a key consideration as it has a huge impact on how conflict is managed from all sides. At Augmentive, we offer a workplace wellbeing platform that is tailored to your organisation, and a bespoke solution to mental health issues within your teams. Our network of over 1,000 qualified practitioners means employees have access to everything they need to continue feeling their best.
With online and in-person appointments available to suit a hybrid style of working, and a dedicated account manager, we can ensure your workforce continues to thrive. You can read more about how to deal with hybrid working and take care of your mental health here.
Whether you’re feeling off-kilter or want to shake up your routine, our state-of-the-art mental wellbeing platform gives you quick and seamless access to world-class support on your terms, from private psychiatric assessments and reviews to broader private mental health care.