Dr. El

As a consulting psychologist, my official job is to provide psychological services to the residents of the nursing homes in which I work. Occasionally, though, I’m asked by a department head to informally assist a staff member in distress and, more frequently, a teammate comes to me for a referral for herself or a family member.

And then there are the times that I reach out to a coworker whom I see needs a hug, an acknowledgement or a few words of encouragement.

Based on a study reported in BMJ Open last month, it turns out that I’m not just being of service to my coworkers. I’m also helping to keep them on the job.

The study examined the way managers handle feelings of depression in their team members across 15 different countries. They looked at whether their reactions influenced absenteeism or presenteeism, which refers to attending work but with reduced productivity.

The researchers found that managers who acknowledged depression and actively offered help fostered greater presenteeism and less absenteeism.

The authors recommended that, given the prevalence and substantial costs of depression in the workplace1, attention be paid to developing policies and training that allow managers to better support employees who are experiencing depression. Training managers to recognize and attend to depressed workers makes it more likely that they’ll intervene before symptoms and productivity costs worsen.

Of particular interest given long-term care’s typical workforce is that the results of the study suggest that, “female individuals with low education and those in the middle age group (25–44) might need more support in the workplace.”


Clearly, it’s not a good idea for managers to spontaneously hug all the coworkers they think might be depressed. (For the record, I approach only people I know relatively well and I always ask the person if they’d like a hug before hugging!)

Instead, consider these other ideas:

  • At a minimum, add a section on recognizing employee depression to in-service trainings already in place for addressing depression in residents. Distribute an up-to-date list of local mental health providers at the end of the program for attendees who might want to access services on their own.
  • Use the wealth of free resources available at the American Psychiatric Association’s Center for Workplace Mental Health. Their Right Direction program offers information about the impact of depression on the workplace and includes a step-by-step field guide in order to address employee depression.
  • Make use of an employee assistance program (EAP) for workers. According to the U.S. Office of Personnel Management, an EAP “is a voluntary, work-based program that offers free and confidential assessments, short-term counseling, referrals, and follow-up services to employees who have personal and/or work-related problems.” EAP services also address other issues, including substance abuse, family problems and workplace crises. They consult with managers and supervisors as needed to handle difficult situations.

The work environment in long-term care is stressful, emotionally demanding and filled with losses of all types. It’s not at all surprising that employees might struggle with feelings of depression at some point during their careers, and it shouldn’t be surprising that help from their managers can make a substantial difference in their ability to cope and to attend to their job responsibilities.

Eleanor Feldman Barbera, Ph.D., author of The Savvy Resident’s Guide, is an Award of Excellence winner in the Blog Content category of the APEX Awards for Publication Excellence program. She also is the Gold Medalist in the Blog-How To/Tips/Service category of the American Society of Business Publication Editors Midwest Regional competition. A speaker and consultant with over 20 years of experience as a psychologist in long-term care, she maintains her own award-winning website at MyBetterNursingHome.com.