New employer group launches to address depression in the workplace

A group of leading European employers are launching a drive to combat the impact depression and its cognitive symptoms have in the workplace – the first time senior European executives have come together to assess and address depression in the workplace.

The launch comes on World Mental Health Day. It is estimated that one in 10 employees in Europe take time off for depression.

“The catastrophic impact depression can have on the individual and their family is well acknowledged, but largely unresolved is the impact depression has on work,” said Professor Martin Knapp, Professor of Social Policy and Co-Director of LSE Health and Social Care. “New research has shown that an average of 36 days is taken off work per episode of depression.  Across the European working population this could mean something approaching 1 billion working days lost to depression.  The economic impact is potentially enormous, and this does not take into consideration the reduced productivity of people who keep on working while they are depressed.”

Depression, the leading cause of disability worldwide, has a direct impact on company profit due to presenteeism (attending work whilst ill) and absenteeism (taking time off work). The cognitive symptoms of depression – concentration difficulties, indecisiveness, and/or forgetfulness – are present up to 94% of the time in an episode of depression and cause significant impairment in work function. People with depression report on average 5.6 hours per week of total health-related lost productivity time more than those without depression.

Some of the largest employers in Europe, including Royal Mail Group Ltd, BT Group plc, Barclays, Unilever and Deutsche Post DHL, that collectively employ over 600,000 people in Europe and generate revenues of almost €200 billion annually, have formed a Steering Committee with the aim to come up with concrete action to help other businesses reduce the impact of depression. The Steering Committee includes representation from the Federation of European Employers and the International Labour Organisation.

“Mental health is the dominant workplace health issue of our time.  Work can either be beneficial or harmful to mental health and employers can make a major contribution to the wellbeing of society by their actions,” said Dr Paul Litchfield, BT Group plc Chief Medical Officer and Target Depression in the Workplace Steering Committee Advisor. “Combatting depression has been a priority for BT for many years and is an integral part of our Mental Health Framework which has delivered significant business benefits as well as helping very many of our people.  Through the Target Depression in the Workplace initiative, we are looking forward to working with other employers to drive best practice to a higher level and to disseminate it as widely as possible.”

Target Depression in the Workplace is chaired by Bill Wilkerson, Executive Chairman Mental Health International. Vice Chair is John Duncan, Group HR Director at Royal Mail Group Ltd. Other companies represented include Ford, BT, Barclays and Unilever.

“We believe there is a huge need for the Target Depression in the Workplace initiative, which will help us tackle one of the leading public health problems facing the working population of Europe”, said Bill Wilkerson, Executive Chairman of Mental Health International and Target Depression in the Workplace Chair. “As part of a global effort, we aim to provide valuable tools and resources which will benefit companies, not just in Europe but worldwide, to alleviate both the personal and economic burden of depression.”

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