Key to addressing depression in the workplace is first understanding its impact on the organization. Increased medical costs, absenteeism, presenteeism, and mental health risks have dramatic effects on an organization’s bottom line. By recognizing the impact, companies are strategically poised to leverage existing programs, promote early identification and intervention, implement new programs and services, and evaluate the effectiveness of such initiatives.
As companies face increasing health costs and competition, comprehensive workplace health programs that target depression are becoming more widely used as a strategy for impacting employee health and productivity and, in turn, corporate bottom lines. However, each company and its employee culture are unique and the strategies used to address employee health and emotional well-being will vary from company to company based on available resources, management, and employee needs and interests, and priority health issues. Developing a comprehensive employee workplace well-being program to address depression, or making improvements to an existing program, requires an understanding of worksite contributors to employee health.
Start by gathering information about the factors that support and/or hinder the health of employees and identifying potential opportunities to improve or address them. Conducting a depression workplace assessment:
- Helps to identify the workplace culture of well-being as well as suggestions that may lead to increased productivity and decreased absenteeism, while achieving targeted health care costs for both employees and the organization as a whole
- Is a necessary first step before goals are developed, resources allocated, strategies adopted, and interventions implemented
Employee health is determined by a complex set of interactions between an individual and the individual’s social, cultural, and physical environments and can be influenced in many ways. Assessing employee health from a number of sources is necessary to glean a more complete picture of the determinants of health.
While the types of data sources that are available depend on the workplace, they may include:
Site Visits and Focus Groups
If you are able to, consider conducting in-person observations of the workplace setting in order to:
- Facilitate focus groups with managers and employees to discuss health attitudes, perceptions, and beliefs
- Review health promotion programs and policies
- Evaluate the worksite environment for health risks
Examples of employee surveys include health risk appraisals (HRAs), employee satisfaction and interest surveys, safety surveys, and routine inspections. Short surveys developed specifically to assess for depression are effective and can be administered electronically or by paper submission. This assessment could be self-scored by the individual and accompanied by a key that suggests recommended next steps. It could then be submitted anonymously so that the organization can get an aggregate look at the prevalence of depression across the population. An example of such a survey is located in the Tools section.
Health Care and Pharmaceutical Claims
Analyzing health and pharmaceutical claims data is an excellent way to identify the common health conditions and procedures for which employees are seeking health care and the costs of that care. Pay special attention to the prevalence of high-risk medical conditions with high percentages of co-morbid depression.
Short- and Long-term Disability
Data from disability claims can help you to identify the prevalence and number of days of work missed due to disability associated with a depression diagnosis. Assessing the full impact of depression in disability cases is often difficult because depression may be identified as a health problem secondary to a physical disability or not identified at all.
Review of Organizational Data Related to Employee Health
This review can include employee demographics; organizational structure; policies regarding vacation, overtime, and sick leave; and current company protocols for such employee benefits as flex time, telecommuting, or job sharing.
Other Data Sources
Examples of other data sources include time and attendance; injury prevalence; workers’ compensation; absenteeism; and participation in, satisfaction with, or outcomes from other employee health programs.
Inventory and Evaluation of Existing Programs
Program design begins with an inventory and evaluation of existing programs, benefit plans, and policies relevant to health and well-being and a determination of their potential connections. This includes:
- The type of coverage and covered services employees receive under the health plan(s)
- Vacation and sick time
- Access to health promotion programs
- Access to specialty condition management programs
In general, better-integrated systems that include behavioral, mental, and physical health components are more effective than less-integrated programs. (Many organizations have adapted a benefits advocacy program for this reason, to help employees effectively use the appropriate programs.) Workplace support is another important consideration. Does your organization have a strong culture of well-being?
This evaluation will ensure that existing structures and resources are leveraged as a foundation. This process may also highlight certain gaps in existing benefits and the need to supplement with additional strategic initiatives.