Article: Some tell-tale signs that your co-worker is depressed

Life @ Work

Some tell-tale signs that your co-worker is depressed

Many organizations have woken up to this lifestyle disease and have been doing their bit to help employees cope with work-life balance.
Some tell-tale signs that your co-worker is depressed

Nearly 42.5% of employees in private sectors are afflicted from depression or general anxiety disorder. This was revealed in an ASSOCHAM study in 2015 . The recent suicide of Vineet Whig, the COO of the Encyclopaedia Britannica who jumped to death on May 15 is yet another incident about how mental well-being is often ignored. Vineet, as remembered by his friends and family members, didn’t show any sign of depression. But, there was a suicide note found on him which said, "I am taking my own life, no one is responsible. I am unable to cope. I am sorry. I am depressed. I see no way out except for suicide. Yes, I am a coward. I should have faced life."

According to World Health Organization, depression is a common illness worldwide, with an estimated 350 million people affected. The rate of emotional problems such as anxiety and depression has increased by 45-50% among corporate employees in the last eight years, according to the ASSOCHAM study. Increasingly demanding schedules and high stress levels are leading to depression or general anxiety disorders in individual lives and have wide ranging effects like daytime fatigue, physical discomfort, psychological stress, performance deterioration, low pain threshold and increased absenteeism. Nearly 38.5% of corporate employees sleep less than 6 hours in a day due to high stressed levels that arise out of tough targets set for themselves by employers and cause diseases like depression, hypertension, sugar etc. Barriers to effective care include a lack of resources, lack of trained health care providers, and social stigma associated with mental disorders. Another barrier to effective care is inaccurate assessment.

Many organizations have woken up to this lifestyle disease and have been doing their bit to help employees cope with work-life balance. Organizations are also keeping an eye on their employees, and managers and HR are watching out for certain tell-all signs which can guide the ‘depressed’ colleagues for counselling.  

Some signs to watch out for: 

  • Sudden changes in productivity/dip in quality of work
  • Absenteeism/taking more sick leaves
  • Interactions with team members/inability to work with the team
  • Lack of motivation/lack of interest in any kind of discussion
  • Frequent breaks at work/use of alcohol and nicotine
  • Fatigue in daily work/complains of physical pain
  • Snappy emails and conversations/frequent unwanted outburst, easily irritable
  • Displaying self-destructive tendencies


To deal with work stress, companies have come up with strategies and activities which make it easier for the employees to cope in the stressful environment. Focusing on open and frequent conversations among managers and their team members, group activities allowing employees to interact and engage outside of work issues, mandatory 2 or 3 weeks of leave, not tracking attendance and working hours, rewarding high performers with exotic travel trips, avail sabbatical to pursue their passions are few of the strategies that companies are investing in. 

"We have had tree plantation sessions where cross vertical teams came together and planted trees around office, we also encouraged team members to nurture an indoor plant at their desk, we have had hand painting, clay modeling and lego build-offs in these sessions. This goes a long way in building freshness and motivating team members to share as well as work better together," said Ambika Sharma, Founder & MD, Pulp Strategy Communications. 

Employee Assistance Programs (EAP) is another way of dealing with depressed employees. Most of the organizations provide this service through a third party vendor who have trained counsellors to deal with the issue. At SAP India, the company has tied up with and has branded it as 'Sahayog'. Employees and their families can avail such services for free through online, telephonic and face-to-face, setting up sessions with counsellors. Even colleagues can refer their team-mates who they believe/feel need such help. "We find that there are an average of about 10 to 15 counselling sessions that take place every month with online counselling being the most preferred mode. SAP and 1to1help have entered into a "Confidentiality agreement" which specifies that while overall utilization of the services will be shared, details of specific cases will remain with the 1to1help and would not be shared with SAP unless it is a potential suicidal or homicidal case," said Vlasta Dusil, Head of HR, SAP India. 

These kind of tie-ups have been helpful in dealing with depressed colleagues as Rajiv Burman, Head of HR, APAC, Kronos mentioned that “an employee was turned around from plans of committing suicide to becoming a healthy productive employee through supportive actions by the manager, HR and the EAP provider.” The company does not receive any details of the conversation. Similary at Pulp Strategy Communications, the company gets visiting counsellors from time to time, while maintaining confidentiality of the interactions. 

At Zopper, every employee is allowed to share problems directly with HR any time. “Everything is kept confidential and no employee is judged based on his/her issues,” said Neeraj Jain, CEO & Co-Founder of the company.

While the tell-all signs are there for the managers to decipher what is going wrong with his/her team member, Dinesh Goel, CEO & Co-Founder at points out that “there may be cases that the signs are not that obvious, and there can be sudden outburst from a colleague during the normal working hours, or even taking a fatal step. In this case, the manager must keep an eye out for any anomaly in the behaviour.” Like Ambika puts it, “it is a very delicate situation when we discover an employee is struggling with depression.”

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Topics: Life @ Work, Employee Assistance Programs, Culture

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