By Matt Dunning, Crain News Service
CHICAGO (July 26, 2013) — Absenteeism among employees diagnosed with depression costs U.S. employers an estimated $23 billion annually, according to a Gallup Inc. report.
More than 18 million full- and part-time employees—roughly 12 percent of the total estimated U.S. workforce—have been diagnosed with depression at least once, according to the report, which was released July 24.
Full-time employees who were diagnosed at some point in their lives with depression missed an average of 8.7 workdays annually for health-related reasons—4.3 more days than employees without a history of depression, according to Gallup's report.
For part-time workers the gap was even larger. Part-time workers diagnosed with depression missed an average 13.7 days of work annually, five days more than workers who had not been diagnosed.
Gallup's findings were based on data collected in its sweeping "Well-Being Index" study, conducted from January 2011 to December 2012. The study interviewed 303,625 working adults nationwide.
To measure depression, the Gallup-Healthways Well-Being Index asked respondents: "Has a doctor or nurse ever told you that you are depressed?"
This analysis included all respondents who said they have ever been diagnosed with depression—even if they are not currently being treated for depression.
Gallup calculated unhealthy days using respondents' answers to the question: "During the past 30 days, for about how many days did poor health keep you from doing your usual activities?"
To estimate how unhealthy days per month translate into missed work days, Gallup asked workers this question: "Earlier, you indicated that you had xx days in the last month where poor health prevented you from doing your usual activities. How many actual work days in the last month did you not work due to poor health?"
Cumulatively, employees who have had or are currently struggling with depression miss an estimated 68 million more days of work per year, Gallup's findings indicated. At an expense of approximately $341 per absence per employee, the lost productivity costs employers an estimated $23.3 billion each year.
One in 8 workers affected
"As U.S. employers move more aggressively to positively affect change around the physical wellbeing of some of their employees, such interventions may be inadequate to address the mental, emotional and psychological health of others," Gallup said..
"Nationally, one in eight U.S. workers have been diagnosed with depression, yielding tens of millions in the workforce who have either grappled with emotional health issues in the past or do so today," the Gallup report continued. "Furthermore, the cost-of-absenteeism estimates shown in this analysis exclude other potential economic costs associated with depression, including productivity loss while on the job, healthcare utilization, workers compensation and turnover, among others."
Employers seeking to reduce the extent to which depression affects the physical and emotional health of their employees—not to mention the financial health of the company itself—should strongly consider investing in resources designed for early detection and treatment of depression, offering an employee assistance program and generally strive to destigmatize depression and its treatment in the workplace, Gallup's report said.
"One less obvious but potentially fruitful strategy for employers to help improve the mental well-being among some employees with depression or depressive symptoms is engaging them through the fulfillment of certain critical psychological needs in the workplace," the report said.
"Engaged employees demonstrate an elevated willingness to participate in workplace well-being programs and boast elevated physical and emotional health when compared with those who are disengaged."
This report appeared in Business Insurance magazine, a Chicago-based sister publication of Tire Business.