Truth or Myth? Is time off work the best approach to dealing with depression or stress?


Whilst dealing with depression or stress, shutting yourself away from everything for a while can feel like the best thing to do. But it isn’t necessarily the best antidote to these feelings.

If you or one of your employees is feeling stressed because of a heavy work load, the worst thing to do is to take time off as this will only leave feelings of dread for the day of return and the impeding heavy workload to catch up on.

Dame Carol Black writes that work related stress can be caused or exacerbated by:

•       Insecure employment;

•       Monotonous and repetitive workloads;

•       Little or no autonomy, control and task discretion for workers;

•       An imbalance between effort and reward so that workers feel exploited or ‘taken for granted’ (wider than just the wage packet);

•       A lack of supportive social networks; and

•       An absence of procedural justice in the workplace i.e. workers cannot be confident that they will be fairly treated by their employer.

Management should discuss the negative feelings with the employee and decide on an alternative working pattern. Perhaps another member of staff could help through the workload or working schedules could be rearranged to allow them to catch up with the backlog without overworking.

In the case of depression, how much time off you should offer is wholly dependent on each personal situation but in general terms a reduced work load is the best option. This will keep the employee working within a semi-normal schedule and ensuring contact with others. If too much time off is taken then they may run the risk of cocooning themselves. This is when you become emerged in your problems and stay within your safety zone. When this pattern of behaviour begins it is easy to forget that none of your problems will be resolved, they will only be stored for later.

This behaviour is detrimental to recovery and can make a return to work scary which is why automatically offering depressed employees a substantial amount of time off can be a bad idea. If it is an employee’s personal life that is causing them the most distress, ensuring their problems are dealt with whilst continuing a normal daily routine is essential to help them see that work doesn’t have to become overwhelming & distracting.

If depression is looming, a medical professional should be the first point of contact by the employee, then a referral can be made and a fit note can be produced. This fit note will be the first step in the employee working with management to help the work load in question is dealt with in a manner that suits everyone whilst ensuring the employee is on the road to feeling more positive.

For more details on how to manage your workforce to minimise the risk of stress & work related depression see the HSE’s website for a step by step guide.

If you are an employee looking for help with stress or depression, we recommend looking at Action on Depression who have a great number of links and action steps to dealing with and managing your feelings.

Honeydew Health can help any company with their welfare strategies to work towards making your whole workforce happier and healthier. Our absence management tracking can also signal the early signs of a stressed or depressed employee and put both the employee and the company on track to a faster recovery.