Betty has usually been an upbeat, cheerful tech, well liked by other employees and considered a very competent worker. Lately though, you’ve noticed that she seems kind of down. She’s not laughing and joking with the other techs as she had been, and her productivity has slowed—not to any seriously worrisome level, but still…you decide to talk with her.
Meeting with her in your office, you tell her that you’ve noticed she seems a bit down and ask if everything is OK, or if there’s anything troubling her. Her immediate response is to assure you that everything is fine, she has no complaints. She says she’s sorry if she’s been doing a bit less than she usually does and promises to do better. You tell her that she’s still doing fine, but you were just a little concerned and wanted to know if there was anything you might do to help her. She again assures you that everything is swell. You thank her for talking to you and she goes back to work.
You observe her a bit more carefully over the next few weeks. At first, after talking with her, she did seem to pick up and act more like her old self. But within a month you again notice a slide in her productivity—and you’ve also heard a rumor that Betty had become kind of snappy and, instead of taking a joke as she always had, she mouthed off about her co-workers acting like a bunch of clowns.
Betty called in sick twice in the following month, saying she had a bad cold and needed to stay home and care for it. Since she’s always had an excellent attendance record, you can’t make too much of it, and yet, this is so unlike her. Putting this together with your other observations, you decide to discuss her behavior with HR.
After describing your concerns to the HR manager, she asks a number of questions: Has Betty seemed less interested in her work? Become more irritable? Started to make more mistakes? Does she seem to have difficulty completing tasks? Any signs that she seems sad and blue? Slowing down in her work?
You realize that you have to answer “yes” to each of these questions and you recognize that you are talking about a person who is depressed.
What’s a manager to do when you recognize that an employee is suffering from significant depression? It’s a touchy situation. Your first impulse, since it seems like a very personal matter, is to try to ignore it and hope it will just go away—and that’s fine. Often, minor, brief periods of depression do just “go away.” But when the signs of depression persist, you can’t continue to ignore it.What should you do?
On the one hand, you don’t want to intrude on what may be a very private matter. On the other hand, you do want to help. As in the case of Betty, described above, the manager did the right thing by gently speaking with her, asking if everything was OK and asking if there was anything he could do. Should the employee start discussing his/her depression, you should listen carefully and sympathetically, and then suggest that he/she speak with someone in HR.
But if the employee just blows you off and insists that everything is fine, tell her that you’re glad to hear it. But you still recommend that she consult with HR. Then, whether or not the employee chooses to do so, you yourself must go to HR and express your concerns.