Millennials’ Depression Is Affecting Everyone at Work

Source: iStock
Source: iStock

As we explore more about mental health and the impact it has on our lives, it’s becoming clear that depression affects more than just the person who suffers from it. There’s a ton of factors that can be a trigger for depression, including the downturn of the economy, someone’s personal debt load, or even logging on to Facebook too often. Whatever the cause, depression has a very real effect in the workplace, and the number of employees showing up to work feeling inadequate, uninspired, or just down in the dumps is growing. You might not think that someone else’s struggle is your problem. But it’s becoming clear that mental health issues affect the productivity in the company as a whole, simply because so many people are showing up to work unprepared to put in a full day.

A study released by Bensinger, Dupont & Associates shows that people in younger generations, especially millennials, are reporting a higher rate of depression than their older colleagues. Among other services, BDA offers Employee Assistance Programs to other companies. The firm tracked data of employees seeking help from the assistance programs over an 18-month period to see if there were trends in how companies (and bosses) could relate to their workers.

For millennials who used the programs, about one in five reported experiencing depression. The two older generations included in the study, Gen Xers and Baby Boomers, experienced depression at a rate of about 16%. (For this study, BDA considers millennials to be born between 1978 and 1999, or 16 to 37 years old. Gen X was born between 1965 and 1977, so is between the ages of 38 and 50. Baby boomers were born between 1946 and 1964, and are between the ages of 51 and 69.)

“Depression is more than just sadness,” the American Psychological Association explains. “People with depression may experience a lack of interest and pleasure in daily activities, significant weight loss or gain, insomnia or excessive sleeping, lack of energy, inability to concentrate, feelings of worthlessness or excessive guilt and recurrent thoughts of death or suicide.” Some of the more serious repercussions to struggles with depression were why BDA chose to study who suffers from it and how it affects their work. “Major depression is a serious psychiatric disorder that affects both work and life functioning. Unlike anxiety, a crucial issue with depression is the reality of suicidal ideation. As such, depression must be recognized as a risk to the workforce,” the organization states in its introduction.

Source: Bensinger, Dupont & Associates
Source: Bensinger, Dupont & Associates

A Gallup report in 2013 found that people with depression make up about 10.8% of the full-time workforce in America, and missed 8.7 days of work per year because of poor health. (Workers who have never been diagnosed with depression miss fewer days, an average of about 4.6 days per year.) However, it’s estimated that about 75% of people who have depression don’t ever seek formal treatment, BDA states.

Depression doesn’t just affect the number of sick days someone takes throughout the year. In most cases, it has a much larger impact on presenteeism, or the idea that someone shows up for work but isn’t productive throughout the day. Employees across all age groups reported the highest rates of presenteeism, followed by absenteeism, disciplinary action, and relationship issues. About 70% of millennials listed presenteeism as a concern related to their depression, though 68% of Gen Xers also were concerned about lost productivity at work because of their depression. Baby boomers were the least concerned, but still 63% of them reported presenteeism as an issue.

It might be easy to chalk a few extra minutes scanning your Facebook page while at work as a relatively small problem. Added up, however, the loss of productivity can be staggering. A study released in 2003 found that workers with depression had an average of 5.6 hours per week of lost productive time, compared to 1.5 hours of lost time for employees without depression. In total, the researchers estimated that the lost productive time of those with depression cost U.S. businesses $44 billion per year.

Depression Rate by State in 2012 | HealthGrove

Absenteeism was a concern for Gen Xers, with 19% reporting it was a problem. About 18% of millennials listed that as a problem, but 16% of baby boomers said it was an issue. Though workplace relationships and disciplinary action were concerns for some across all age groups, it was significantly lower than the first two.

The purpose for BDA’s study is to discover how varying generations deal with certain problems while at work. Millennials also report the highest levels of anxiety while at work and 60% of them listed presenteeism as a concern, though lower than the presenteeism problems for depressed employees. In the case of depression baby boomers feel it’s more important to show up at all than to take a day off, even if productivity suffers.

Though reaching various generations at once can be difficult, BDA advised that companies invest resources into detecting the signs and symptoms of depression, as well as developing strategies for reaching employees of varying generations. “Due to the increased risk of suicidal thoughts for people struggling with depression, it is more important to talk with these employees about seeking help,” the report concluded.
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