WORK-LIFE BALANCE / NOV. 20, 2014
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Why Coming Into Work May Ease Depression

Stress and strain are a seemingly inevitable part of modern life, and, indeed, it’s often easy to believe that our work is the primary cause of it.  Either our commute is a pain in the behind, or our boss is constantly on our case. Work has all manner of stressful things associated with it.

Alas, a recent study suggests that it may also be beneficial too. Indeed, the study went as far as to say that coming into work may actually ease our depression.

Why depression is bad

Stats suggest that depression has a huge impact on our productive capabilities. It’s estimated for instance, that over 1/4 of those with depression experience severe challenges in maintaining their work life, with 80% suffering more mild disruptions because of the condition.

In hard financial terms, this is bad news, with estimates that it costs around 200 million work days every year, costing up to $44 billion per year.

So this study, conducted by a team of Australian researchers, should be of interest to all.

“We found that continuing to work while experiencing a depressive illness may offer employees certain health benefits,” the researchers say, “while depression-related absence from work offers no significant improvement in employee health outcomes or quality of life.”

The research compared the outcomes and costs between working through depression and taking time off to try and get back on track.

Around 9,000 employees were quizzed via a mental health survey that was conducted via the Australian Bureau of Statistics.  The aim was to determine both how many people are depressed, and the outcomes for them as an employee.

For the purposes of this particular study, absenteeism was regarded as any instance whereby an employee had to take time off from work, or where they were unable to continue their normal duties, due to depression.

Presenteeism, by contrast, was defined as someone who had the same symptoms of depression, yet didn’t report any absences from work because of their condition.

Why coming into work helps

The study revealed that there could potentially be considerable benefits to coming into work, including a reduced cost of medication.  These benefits can potentially outweigh the possibility of negative outcomes, in terms of both health and costs.

The researchers suggest that work is beneficial because it provides the individual with a daily routine, whilst also allowing them to tap into the support network they’ve built up at work with colleagues.

Whilst the study certainly can’t claim to provide an exhaustive understanding of what is an incredibly complex topic, it nevertheless provides an interesting new dimension to discussions. The researchers believe that a better understanding of both the costs and consequences of presenteeism vs absenteeism would allow employers to offer smarter and more effective policies to deal with stress and depression.

“This is important information for employers, health care professionals (e.g. GPs) and employees faced with the decision whether to continue working or take a sickness absence,” the researchers conclude. “It suggests that future workplace mental health promotions strategies should include mental health policies that focus on promoting continued work attendance via offering flexible work-time and modification of tasks or working environment.”

 

Image: Health Net Pulse

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