Skip to main content

How to Be A Good Leader for Employees With High-Functioning Depression

How to Be A Good Leader for Employees With High-Functioning Depression

With more than 300 million people affected by depression worldwide, 80% don't receive any treatment. Why? Many just don't want to admit they need help, trying hard to look happy: they spend time with friends, travel, and continue working full-time.

Here's the question:

Are you sure none of your employees suffers from high-functioning depression?

The problem is, it remains a taboo subject in most workplaces. Managers simply don't know what to do with depressed employees and how to help them. As a leader, you need to address the issues of your organization's culture and encourage workers to talk about mental health with their managers, as well as train managers to help those with dysthymia.

It's not only about the human side of business. According to reports, workplace depression is a major issue for economies. Mental health problems of employees cost billions to organizations worldwide, with the most negative impact coming from managers who stay at work while depressed and try hard to boost productivity.

[Related: What's Your Corporate Climate Like?]

For a good leader, it could make sense to consider the problem and build the culture of support in the office. With the lack of understanding that most depressed people meet, your employees will appreciate it: a single word of encouragement can make a huge difference. However, you should understand that words alone won't combat the illness and lead to true happiness at work.

What else can you do to become a good leader for your stressed or depressed co-workers?

Organize Their Workspace

Work environment matters, as it reflects our mood and makes us feel well. Allow your depressed employees to organize workspace the way they feel most comfortable: favorite plants, cups, pictures of close people, inspirational quotes – such small details help to forget about stress.

Also, apply to the chemistry behind human emotions. In her article for HuffPost, Emily Johnson refers to the scientifically proven fact that we feel more depressed during shorter days and advises to decide on maximum daylight in your office. "Daylight makes us active and concentrated, so decide on it rather than artificial lighting. Organize your workplace accordingly: light walls and curtains, window-mirror combos, etc," she says.

Organize Their Workflow

One thing a leader should understand about depressed employees: if they continue working full-time, it doesn't mean it comes naturally for them. Each and every task seems challenging, and they go to great lengths to complete it. With that in mind, try to schedule working hours in a way nothing could interrupt your mentees.

Research proves that interruptions do nothing but irritate and make us forget of intentions. Obviously, irritancy is the last emotion your depressed employees need now.

Allow them to delegate tasks, when appropriate. Let them focus on activities they value most and outsource everything else. Stewart Freidman from the University of Pennsylvania Wharton School recommends defining so-called key stakeholders: "Find out what you can do to let go in ways that benefit other people by giving them opportunities to grow." In other words, don't let your depressed employees multitask.

Also, don't force them to sit in the office from 9 till 5. Some argue that such schedule makes it easier for leaders to control employees, but your depressed mentees could work more efficiently and find a balance when at home with no distractions.

Sounds counter-intuitive, but working from coffee shops could have a positive impact on them, either: they stimulate creativity, encourage networking, and provide fewer distractions. As Kevin Purdy wrote in his LifeHacker article, "coffee shops provide 'Just Enough Distraction' — more than a dead-quiet office, but not a rock concert's worth." Nancy Christinovich from PlagiarismCheck agrees: "I consider coffee shops the best place to work! They are friendly, give endless amounts of caffeine to keep me going and encourage my concentration."

Encourage Physical Activities

Although high-functioning depression causes painful symptoms such as a muscle ache and headache, light physical exercises stimulate endorphin secretion influencing our mood. So, encourage your employees to go in for sports: for example, buy a pull-up bar to the office and assign 20-minute sessions to co-workers so they could alternate brainwork with a physical one.

You don't necessarily need to ask employees to do sports in the office. To help them beat depression, organize mental breaks and healthful snacks, encourage them to take walks during a lunchtime – walking increases a brain volume – and advise developing useful habits such as everyday writing to take stress on paper or drinking green tea for positive thinking.

[Related: 6 Effective Ways to Boost Your Team Motivation]

Take the lead in organizing calming techniques in the office and practice them yourself to show co-workers the way. Allow listening to music at work despite it might break the rules of your corporate etiquette. Soothing nerves, quiet melodies make us feel better.

Employees with high-functioning depression are far from those in fatigue and stress. Often, they can't admit they have a problem and need treatment though effective therapy and medical care could help to live a full life.

As a leader, you should take steps to stir depressed team members into action, encourage them to fight against the disease, and find ways to decrease its level in the workplace by creating positive work environment.


Lesley Vos is an independent writer and contributor to publications on marketing, career, and self-development.

Have more questions? Follow up with the expert herself.


Continue learning with this Ellevate Playbook: