As soon as I read the September 10 press release from the University of Melbourne, I remembered an email I received many years ago from a friend who for months had been nearly incapacitated by depression. She finally took a simple retail job and – after getting through the stress of her training – started to feel better. In her note to me, she described “the healing power of work.”
After evaluating the records of Australians with depression, researchers at the University Of Melbourne and the Menzies Research Institute at the University of Tasmania tallied the costs based on several factors, including lost productivity, medications, health services, and the costs to replace absent workers.
Absenteeism and Presenteeism
According to lead researcher Fiona Cocker, Ph.D., the study provides more insight into the costs and consequences of both work absenteeism and “presenteeism.” She said that her group’s findings facilitate “more informed recommendations” that will benefit both employees and employers.
“We found that continuing to work while experiencing a depressive illness may offer employees certain health benefits, while depression-related absence from work offers no significant improvement in employee health outcomes or quality of life,” she said.
Not surprisingly, the report indicated that costs associated with depression-related absences from work were greater for white-collar workers than they were for blue-collar workers. The quality-of-life benefits of working were also higher for white collar employees working through depressive illness.
Modifications in the Workplace
The study findings suggest that employers can clearly benefit from making appropriate modifications for depressed employees who are struggling because of depression. Those modifications might include offering more flexible scheduling, adjusting tasks, and tweaking work environments.
Though making these modifications may cost employers money, Cocker emphasizes the long-term cost savings for businesses, in addition to the health benefits of continued work for their employees.
The study indicates that work attendance recommendations can be tailored for specific occupation types, both for white- and blue-collar workers.
Cocker also said that her group’s findings may have application for workers with other conditions that frequently cause them to miss work, like diabetes and heart disease.