Don’t Overlook Depressed Employees

Sometimes you just know it’s going to be “one of those days.”

You wake up, pour a fresh cup of coffee, raise it to your lips (that first sip always tastes the best) and … wham! It spills everywhere. Then traffic is unbearable and you’re late to work. Once you arrive, the day only gets worse.

For some people, however, every day is a struggle. Depression hinders their ability to function in the workplace and beyond. It’s an intensely personal condition for employees, but one that can have a profound – and harmful – impact on business’ bottom lines.

According to a compelling Forbes story, depression results in 200 million lost workdays in the United States annually. In addition, 9.5% of the adult population will experience a depressive illness in a given year. Your employees don’t have to suffer in silence. Watch for these symptoms:

  • Increasing frequency of sick days: Is your employee visiting the doctor more often but refuses to tell you the issue even under confidence? Does s/he seem to suffer from more than physical pains that you cannot see? Sometimes common colds, flu, stomachaches are symptoms of stress.
  • Loss of motivation: Does your employee look less enthusiastic at work or when completing his usual duties?
  • Changes in social behavior in the workplace: Those who are sociable withdraw from their friends and colleagues. Those who used to be passive could become aggressive and outspoken all of a sudden.
  • Incomplete duties or tasks: Depression sometimes results in memory loss. Is your employee forgetting some project deadlines or fails to accomplish assigned duties on time?
  • Fatigue, tiredness, excessive yawning: Lethargy is one symptom of depression.
  • Increasing number of absent days for other reasons: Is your colleague taking more leave days than usual with increasing frequency, citing other reasons than sick leave? Or does s/he call in the morning with an excuse they could not arrive at work that day? This could flag a possibility of disinterest in work.

BSU Report: Indoor Environments Can Trigger Migraines in Workers

A new study from Ball State University reveals that migraine sufferers can have enhanced headaches due to indoor environments. It’s important that employers take this into consideration — especially if many of your staffers are inexplicably taking many sick days.

Office workers may suffer more intense migraines and more frequent headaches due to an uncomfortable indoor environment, more commonly known as sick building syndrome, says a new report from Ball State University.
"Headache symptoms and indoor environmental parameters: Results from the EPA BASE study" found employees working indoors may become sick due to abnormal levels of carbon monoxide, carbon dioxide, volatile organic compounds, light, humidity, temperature and sound.

The study found that when exposed to an uncomfortable indoor environment, 38 percent of participants reported having a headache one to three days a month while nearly 8 percent had daily headaches, said Jagdish Khubchandani, a community health education professor in Ball State’s Department of Physiology and Health Science. He conducted the study with Suchismita Bhattacharjee, a professor of construction management in the Department of Technology at Ball State.

"Millions of Americans and people worldwide are affected by migraines and headaches, mostly during the highly productive years of their lives," said Khubchandani, who also is a faculty fellow with the university’s Global Health Institute.. "Migraines and headaches lead to significant decline in quality of life, productivity and daily functioning."

Produced only once by the Environmental Protection Agency, this was a multicenter cross-sectional study of 4,326 office workers employed in 100 randomly selected large office buildings across the country. The largest study of its kind used the data collected by EPA for the Building Assessment Survey and Evaluation (BASE) study during 1994-1998. Results were recently published by the Annals of Indian Academy of Neurology.
As a result of the research, the authors found:

  • Females were more likely to report a headache in the last four weeks when compared to males (75 percent vs. 53 percent).

  • About 21 percent of employees admitted that a physician had diagnosed them with migraines. Females (27 percent) were significantly more likely than males (11 percent) to report a migraine diagnosis.

  • The highest levels of migraine diagnosis were for employees exposed to out-of-comfort range carbon monoxide and carbon dioxide in their office buildings.

  • Exposure to out-of-comfort range indoor environmental parameters was higher in groups that reported higher headache frequencies.

Because headaches related to office environment lead to loss of workdays and decrease productivity, the authors recommend that building managers implement effective intervention strategies to reduce the prevalence of headaches and other symptoms of sick building syndrome.

"Collection of periodic data on indoor environmental parameters should become a universal practice, and based on the data, a health risk management plan for the occupants should be designed," Bhattacharjee said. "Reviewing operation and maintenance of heating, ventilation and air conditioning systems should be made an integral part of the strategies to reduce harmful worksite exposures."

Ill Communication: Strange Reasons People Call in “Sick”

I once had to delay coming to work because my dog, Harry (pictured), injured his foot jumping off of my bed. While I didn’t call in “sick” and actually told my supervisors what was going on, it was an odd reason to be sure. (Even more odd considering he was fine the next day after I dropped a couple hundo at the vet, and he may have simply been in search of some painkillers to ease the stress he must be under from sleeping all day and listening to light rock radio.)

At any rate, Ragan reports on CareerBuilder’s survey about the reasons people can’t make it in to work. Some of these excuses will amuse you:

Take a look at this list CareerBuilder compiled from the survey. You may have heard some of these yourself.

When asked to share the most memorable excuses, employers reported the following real-life examples:

• Employee’s sobriety tool wouldn’t allow the car to start.
• Employee forgot he was hired for the job.
• Employee said her dog was having a nervous breakdown.
• Employee’s dead grandmother was being exhumed for a police investigation.
• Employee’s toe was stuck in a faucet.
• Employee said a bird bit her.
• Employee was upset after watching “The Hunger Games.”
• Employee got sick from reading too much.
• Employee was suffering from a broken heart.
• Employee’s hair turned orange from dying her hair at home.

29 percent of bosses check up on excuses

The survey also found that a fair number of managers want to verify if sick workers are actually sick.

This was a big issue for me when I was a manager in Hawaii in a union shop, and mysteriously had a number of the surfers on staff call in sick when the surf was particularly large. I never caught any of them surfing when they should have been home in bed, but that was more because I didn’t have the time or resources to track all of them down.

Twenty-nine percent of employers say they have checked up on an employee to verify that his or her illness was legitimate, usually by requiring a doctor’s note or calling the employee later in the day.