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A new study makes the case that a supportive manager might help employees with depression miss fewer days on the job.
The research, published Monday in BMJ Open, found that workplaces where managers support and help employees with depression have lower rates of missed days on the job due to depression. That support can come in the form of a formal policy, a referral system for care, or transitional support to help employees take time off work for mental health reasons and then return to their roles.
Past studies have suggested that depression takes a significant economic toll on the workforce. To look into what might help, researchers at the London School of Economics and Political Science examined survey data from 16,000 employees and managers in 15 countries, including the U.S. They asked about how managers handled mental health concerns among employees and collected data on how often employees with depression took time off work due to their illness.
The researchers found that in countries where more managers say they would avoid talking with an employee about depression, employees with depression missed four more days of work due to their illness, on average, during their most recent episode of depression.
“Working in an environment where managers felt comfortable to offer help and support to the employee rather than avoid them was independently associated with less absenteeism and more presenteeism,” the authors say.
There are likely other factors at play, including gross domestic product, the authors say. The resources in a given country could shape the ability of workplaces to invest in mental health policies and support employees with depression. The study found that in countries with lower GDPs, employees with depression missed more days of work, on average, than in countries with high GDPs. But the researchers also found that workplace policies were nearly as important — when they controlled for GDP, countries with more supportive managers still saw employees with depression missing fewer days of work.
“Workplace policies and practices are likely to reflect broader sociocultural attitudes and beliefs about mental health and societal values about investment in prevention and support for people with mental health problems,” the authors say.
The study didn’t take several other factors, including symptom severity, into account. And it only shows a correlation, not cause and effect.
The authors say their findings suggest there’s a need for systems that help managers support employees with mental health concerns. They also say there’s a need for “clear transition and referral pathways for employees who need to take time off and for those returning to work.”