Advice from Spill's therapists
Suggest therapyMake reasonable adjustmentsKnow your duty of careRelated resources
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Giving time off to an employee struggling with depression

Spill's qualified therapists answer real questions from employees dealing with depression.

My direct report told me that they are struggling with depression, which is why they've been taking sick days recently. What can I do to support them and how much time off is reasonable to give them before I should flag it as an issue?

Our first therapist suggests...

Suggest therapy

The best support you can offer your report initially is to ask them if they are getting any professional help and, if not, signpost them towards some.

One of the reasons that depression can be so hard to escape from is that the sufferer disconnects from the world and from themselves meaning that everything that used to provide a sense of joy tends to look grey and dull.

Motivation is lost and enthusiasm for life generally becomes very hard to generate so it becomes a self-fulfiling prophecy in that the less you do the less you feel you can do.

Therapy is usually the fastest way through so if you have any facility to offer it that should be your first priority.

In terms of flagging it as an issue its never too early. The longer depression goes untreated the worse it tends to become. Never underestimate its severity. If it isn’t as bad as first thought nothing is lost.

Have a conversation with your team member and ask them if there is anything you can do in the workplace that might help them to feel more supported.  Try and focus their efforts on tasks they feel they can do because this will build self belief which often goes missing when we are depressed.

Consider any working adjustments you can make that may help in the short term. Flexible working hours, or temporary reassignment of particularly challenging tasks for example. Try and make these decisions in conjunction with your team member because they know best what feels useful.

Try to strike a balance between checking in with them regularly to see how they are feeling without being over the top and too intense. Keeping a strong emotional boundary between you and them  is what gives you the opportunity to help get them out of the hole without the risk of you falling in too.

Finally, it can be hard supporting someone who feels depressed so if you find yourself being affected don’t hesitate to talk to someone about it yourself.

Therapy with Spill helps your employees to address low mood, anxiety, and anything else affecting their mental wellbeing. ‍
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Our second therapist suggests...

Make reasonable adjustments

It sounds a very tricky place to be; to be balancing the needs of the business as well as the needs of the human, especially when the needs may be different.

There are a few things you can do to support them:

  • Listen: before any plans or decisions are made, take time to hear what they are going through. This may be a very scary time for them and as frustrating to them as it is to the company. This may be the first time they have experienced poor mental health and may be struggling with this different way of being in the world.
  • Make sure they’re aware of the person they need to speak to within the business to arrange time off.
  • Don’t downplay their condition because it is mental health and not physical health (this sadly does happen).
  • If you have access to therapy through your company, remind them that this option for support is open.
  • Consider any reasonable adjustments you can make to support their return or their performance (e.g. are the performance expectations realistic given their current health? If they feel too high, this may in itself cause more distress and hamper their capability.)

You may need more regular check-ins than you previously held in order to check what is and what isn’t working and also to let the employee know you are by their side.

With regards to their time off work:

  • Check your company policy. They will still need to follow it with regards to time off (i.e. they will likely need a note from a doctor for anything more than three days).
  • If they are off work, be sure to check in at regular intervals. Don’t pressure the employee to come back to work.
  • If they are off work, you may arrange a meeting with them to discuss getting them back into work longer term (e.g. a phased return and/or adjustments).

Longer term, you can refer them to occupational health to assess their current capability and look at suggested adjustments
In terms of what “reasonable” means, if their depression is severe enough for their doctor to sign them off sick, remember it’s a disability under the Equality Act 2010 (...”the impairment has a substantial and long-term adverse effect on their ability to carry out normal day-to-day activities.”). Be compassionate and supportive, put plans in place that offer adjustments for the employee. Then review and adapt this along the way.  At a future point in the review, you will be aware you are either working towards the employee’s return or their disconnection from the role.

Spill's proactive mental health care picks up on anyone struggling in your team, and points them towards best-in-class therapy. ‍
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Our third therapist suggests...

Know your duty of care

You have a direct report who has been taking sick days for depression. You would like to know how you can help and how much time off is acceptable.

The following are thoughts and tips to help you in this situation:

  • Depression can have negative impacts on a personal level and in the workplace (on productivity for example) so do ensure your approach to any conversations around mental health is understanding and empathic. It is important that all employees feel they are able to discuss mental health concerns at work should this be necessary.
  • Check your guidance for your company and how sick days are usually managed.
  • If the employee takes seven days or more off, ask them for a fit note. There isn’t a limit on how many days an employee can take off for depression. Encourage that the employee comes back to work when they feel better.
  • Ask the employee if they have seen their GP. Suggest that they see the GP if they haven’t done this.
  • Ask the employee if there are any adjustments that would help them in the workplace and if the requests are reasonable do aim to meet them. This might be things like temporarily reducing their workload and helping them delegate tasks or allowing them to take more frequent breaks.
  • Find out if anything in the workplace is contributing to the depression. You need to know this because if there is something unsafe about the workplace you have a duty to rectify this.
  • Recommend any other mental health support offered by your company.
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Download our depression support guide for managers

Use our support guide to understand and recognise symptoms of depression in your employees, and put in place some workplace adjustments to help them feel more comfortable and productive