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Depression and work performance

Call centre staff have provided scientists with an ideal work environment in which to compare work performance and depression.  Researchers from the Institute of Psychiatry, King’s College London, successfully proved that many depressed employees continue work at the detriment to their work performance.

Depression is estimated to cost England around nine billion pounds, with the majority of these costs due to lost work productivity.  However, not everyone with symptoms of depression will take time off work.  Many will continue to work, although their performance in the work place may be affected by their depressive symptoms.

Over one thousand staff from a UK-based call centre participated in a novel type of ecological study which included a web-based screening tool which assessed a variety of depressive symptoms.  Those work groups with high levels of depressive symptoms were found to perform more poorly, even when other factors, such as the type of employees in each group and their satisfaction with their line manager were considered.

Dr Samuel Harvey, who led this research project, said: ‘These results are exciting for two reasons: firstly they provide objective evidence that workgroups with high levels of depression perform poorly.  Secondly, we have been able to show that computer aided web-based screening for depression is feasible in the workplace.  This should be of great interest to companies searching for practical, cost-effective means of helping their workforce, although the full risks and benefits of wide scale screening need to be evaluated.’

Call centre staff are uniquely suited to this type of research, as their individual and group performance are closely measured. 

One sixth of the working age population suffer from symptoms of common mental disorders such as depression.  Common mental disorders, such as depression, are now the leading cause of sickness absence and long-term work disability. 

Depression and work performance: an ecological study using web-based screening’ is published in Occupational Medicine.

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