depressionOther than Dr. John Howard, NIOSH director, and NIOSH itself, we hear little in the U.S. about job stress and job-related depression from government agencies. I think it is a cultural thing. The U.S. is the land of rugged individualism, John Wayne, pull yourself up by your bootstraps.

Rugged individuals are not stressed or depressed. They’re rugged. I never saw The Duke stressed-out or bummed out in any of his movies. And you can’t pull yourself up by your bootstraps if you’re shaking with stress or in some depressed dazed.

So to maintain careers and appearances, many employees in the U.S. suffering from mental ills stay in the closet.

Things are different in Europe, where a more mature and open attitude about job stress and depression holds forth. It’s about time the U.S. grew up and adopted a more sophisticated approach to job stress and mental ills.

Consider this “public service” announcement by a UK human resources web site

“Businesses operate in increasingly pressured times, with small to mid-size enterprises especially under stress as belts tighten and technology moving on apace. (Lets look at the best ways to identify members of your workforce who might be suffering from stress or depression before the problem escalates, and what to do if you find yourself with an employee who is suffering from a work-related mental health issue.

”We all have days when we feel a bit ‘down in the dumps’, but there’s a fine line between feeling stressed about occasional workload and becoming isolated, depressed and, in some cases, even suicidal.

”A 2010 survey identified that stress was by far the most common workplace health issue, with an astonishing 62% of their representatives putting stress in the top 5 of employee concerns. Clearly, research produced by any representative body will be skewed in favour of the employee; however businesses across the size spectrum are having to come to terms with the fact that stress and its related illnesses can have significant impact on both their operational efficiency and brand reputation, as claims for constructive dismissal, negligence and disability discrimination soar in the UK.

What exactly is work-related stress?

“There may be several things that cause work-related stress: overwork, job insecurity, over-promotion, lack of training, bad working relationships, bullying/harassment, change and personal issues. The experienced and responsible employer will recognise that their organisation may be responsible for any or all of these and will understand that, beyond immediate business needs, they have a statutory duty-of-care to their employees.

I can’t imagine OSHA telling employers that their organizations may be responsible for work-related stress, job insecurity, bullying, or bad working relationships. “Don’t pin that on me,” cries the boss. “Responsible? I’m not putting myself in front of all those potential disability claims.”

Work-related stress and depression may manifest themselves in several different ways:
• Unable to enjoy work in the way they used to
• Losing interest in social activities with co-workers
• Lethargy and disinterest in core tasks
• Poor punctuality
• Frequent sick leave
• Becoming aggressive with employers, co-workers or customers
• Lack of concentration on work
• Lack of attention to personal hygiene, appearance, etc

How can I prevent work-related stress?

The Brit HR firm says, “The simple answer is that you can’t. However, there are steps – while appearing to be a little ‘touch-feely’ for some British managers, will pay dividends in creating a contented and productive workforce.
• Develop empathy – While all employees should conform to the rules of employment set by your organisation, don’t expect them to be clones. Each one has his or her personal agenda, aspirations, and personal motivations. Respect these and your employee will feel valued.
• Provide for anonymous complaints and feedbacks – There is no better way to secure the trust of employees, and reduce employee stress, than to allow them to voice their feedback and complaints. Conduct a weekly meeting to address their concerns. Don’t take any negative feedback personally; try to address it in the best way possible.
• Encourage healthy snacking – Does your organisation have facilities for snacks and soft drinks? Ditch the chocolate, fatty potato snacks and cola as a policy and replace with healthier options. There will be initial resistance but your employees will get used to the new culture.
• Regular one to one interactions – If the seeds of disaffection start sprouting among your workforce, act quickly and identify any individuals who might be the root cause. In many instances it can be one personal grievance that causes unrest among the rest of the workforce. One way to tackle this if your workforce is small enough is to encourage regular one-to-one sessions with managers and supervisors to discuss any issues before they escalate.
• Helping employees manage time effectively - Everyone gets swamped with work sometimes but Planning and Preparation can go a long way to preventing this. Do your employees seem to have a structured day or are they working one hour to the next without knowing what the next task is. Encourage scheduling and diaries.
• Giving employees assurances that they will not be laid off – These days there’s no such thing as a ‘cradle-to-grave’ job, but people need reassurance that their job is at least safe for the time being. Within the operational needs, be as transparent with your workforce as possible. Avoid closed meetings if at all possible, unless the matter is staff-confidential. Above all, be positive, be realistic.
• Ensure clean a clean and tidy workplace – It may sound like a no-brainer but it’s surprising how many workplaces are drowning in clutter, from offices to factories.