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Blue Monday highlights the real problem of depression in the workplace

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Today is Blue Monday, a day statistically proven to be the most depressing of the year due to factors such as the weather, debt overflowing from Christmas and the fact many of us have already failed our New Years Resolutions. But for 1 in 6 of us, depression is not something that affects us for one day of the year; it is something that is lived with and has serious implications on every aspect of our lives, including our work. Howard Robson, Partner in our Employment team, here explains employer responsibilities when it comes to managing employees suffering with mental health issues.                                                                                               

Impact of depression on sickness absence

According to the latest figures from the Labour Force Survey (LFS), the total number of working days lost due to depression, stress or anxiety was 11.7 million days in 2015/16, meaning an average of 23.9 days lost per case.  The main reasons given from employees were workload pressures, including tight deadlines and too much responsibility, as well as a lack of managerial support.

Having an employee who is depressed or under stress can impact not only their work, but also the work of their colleagues, as demonstrated by a Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD) study.  The CIPD study showed that those suffering are more likely to get into conflict with their colleagues and are potentially less patient with them and their customers, they will find it harder to juggle multiple tasks, and they will find it difficult to concentrate, meaning they take longer to show results. This study, along with the LFS figures, highlight why it’s so important for employers to be able to spot the signs early of an employee under pressure and work with them to identify ways to combat their concerns before it turns into depression or stress related anxiety.

How to spot the signs of depression in the workplace

There are many ways in which a manager or team leader can spot the signs of an employee suffering with depression.  It may be a change within their general demeanour in the workplace environment, their punctuality and willingness to attend meetings, their work performance, or through feedback from their colleagues if they are causing arguments and tension.  

Keeping in touch with employees through regular catch up meetings, either individually or as a team, will make identifying any changes in work patterns easier to spot.  It will also encourage line managers to work closely with their team members, enabling them to feel more confident about addressing any issues, and the employee could feel more at ease to discuss their concerns.  Holding return-to-work interviews following any sickness absence will help to identify any underlying reasons.

Employer responsibilities with mental health

Employers have responsibilities towards their employees when it comes to their physical and mental health, and some forms of mental health, including depression, are classed as a disability under the Equality Act 2010. 

This means that employers are lawfully prohibited from treating a disabled person less favourably due to their disability.  They may be required to make reasonable adjustments to meet their requirements, which could include flexible working, working from home or changing office locations if possible.  A failure to make reasonable adjustments, both in terms of their day-to-day role but also during any formal process, could result in a disability discrimination claim.

Managing mental health in the workplace

An effective way to show employees that an employer takes mental health seriously is through a mental health policy.  This can form a part of a general sickness absence policy, but having one creates an environment where employees feel they are able to talk about their illness.  It’s not enough to simply have a policy, but also to train managers to spot the signs and the steps they need to take to manage the employee.

Mental health and long term sick leave

If an employee is in the situation where they are on long term sickness absence due to mental health conditions, then there are measures employers must follow.

Formal meetings should be held, where discussions would revolve around likely dates of return, what reasonable adjustments could be made, whether there are alternative roles they may wish to explore and how their return to work would be managed as and when it happens.

Dismissal is sometimes the only ending to these events, so employers should ensure all are followed accordingly in terms of meetings and documentation to support their decision.

If you’re an employer considering how you manage mental health in the workplace and would like advice on mental health policies, reasonable adjustments or the grievance, disciplinary or dismissal process with a member of staff on long term sick, you can contact Howard or the Employment Team on 02380 717717 or email


This is for information purposes only and is no substitute for, and should not be interpreted as, legal advice.  All content was correct at the time of publishing and we cannot be held responsible for any changes that may invalidate this article.