Emma Mamo: How to manage workplace depression

Everyone has mental health, just as we all have physical health, and proactively managing this at work benefits all staff, not just those with a mental health problem.

If you read nothing else, read this…

  • Depression affects more than 2% of people.
  • Employees experiencing depression may struggle with motivation.
  • Many organisations are now tackling the causes of poor mental health.

Depression and anxiety combined is the most common mental health problem, affecting one in 10 people, while depression alone affects more than 2% of people, according to the Health and Social Care Information Centre’s Adult Psychiatric Morbidity in England survey, published in January 2009, which is a significant proportion of the workforce.

An employee who is experiencing a bout of depression may struggle with motivation, punctuality and decision-making. Workplace pressures, including increased workload, fear of redundancy, long hours or unreasonable targets, can both cause and worsen depression.

Staff may not want to discuss these problems, but they must be addressed to assist recovery.


Mental health problems are very common and are increasing. Calls to Mind’s Infoline have surged by more than 50%, and most enquiries relate to depression.

Accordingly, prescriptions for antidepressants in England have soared, with more than 50 million dispensed in 2012, according to the Health and Social Care Information Centre’s Prescriptions Dispensed in the Community: Statistics for England 2002-2012, published in July 2013. 

The fact that an increasing number of staff are experiencing mental health problems means employers must act now. Early intervention is vital. Organisations that ignore workplace mental health face lower productivity, higher rates of sickness absence and poor staff retention.

Three-pronged approach

We recommend a three-pronged approach to supporting workplace mental wellbeing: promote wellbeing for all staff, tackle the causes of work-related mental health problems, and support staff who are experiencing mental health problems.

Supporting an employee who is suffering from depression is much like supporting someone with any other mental health problem: it is about creating an open dialogue, with staff feeling able to discuss their wellbeing.

Given that every employee’s experience of mental health problems will be different, employers must ensure their support is tailored and focused on the employee, not the problem.

Designated staff, whether a line manager, HR team member or occupational health professional, should ask the employee open questions about their support needs, avoiding making any assumptions about their symptoms and how they might affect their abilities.

When talking about mental health, managers should use appropriate terms that avoid stigma. They should also consider the fact that many staff can manage their condition and still perform to a high standard. 

Action plan

Developing an action plan involves an employee and their line manager jointly identifying any workplace triggers that may worsen their mental health, and the steps they can take together to offset this.

Employers have a duty to make reasonable adjustments for an employee who is experiencing a mental health problem that is covered by the Equality Act. This often involves changes to culture or practice rather than a costly intervention, such as flexible working hours or a change to start and finish times; change of workspace; return-to-work policies, such as a phased return; changes to role (temporary or permanent); changes to break times; increased support from managers in prioritising and managing workload; and providing quiet rooms.

Proactive management 

Smart employers know that organisations are only as strong as their employees. Proactively managing and supporting mental wellbeing enables staff to achieve their full potential, delivering the best outcome for a business.

It is not just about employers implementing wellbeing initiatives, but promoting these effectively to boost take-up, as well as encouraging conversations about wellbeing to normalise mental health.

It is encouraging to see that many organisations are becoming more proactive in tackling the causes of poor mental health, and there are many ways they can do so. For example, during Responsible Business Week, which ran from 31 March to 4 April 2014, Business in the Community started up its Workwell Mental Health Champions Group, which aims to help business leaders ensure that mental health and physical health are given equal priority in the workplace.

Employers can start by signing the Time to Change organisational pledge to demonstrate their commitment to supporting staff wellbeing.

Emma Mamo is head of workplace wellbeing at Mind