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Should Employees Take Sick Days For Depression?

Provided by Psychiatry and Behavioral Health Learning Network, written by Jolynn Tumolo

Employees who show up at the office during a depressive illness may be better off than those who call in sick, suggests a study published in PLoS One.

“We found that continuing to work while experiencing a depressive illness may offer employees certain health benefits, while depression-related absence from work offers no significant improvement in employee health outcomes or quality of life,” said researcher Fiona Cocker, PhD, from the Melbourne School of Population and Global Health at the University of Melbourne.

For their study, Dr. Cocker and colleagues from the University of Melbourne and the Menzies Research Institute at the University of Tasmania compared health outcomes and long-term costs of depression-related absence vs. presence at work among Australian employees.

Among white collar workers specifically, researchers found that those who attended work despite depression had a significantly better quality of life than those who took sick time. Researchers found no differences in health outcomes between blue collar workers who took time off and those who attended work.

When calculating costs, researchers considered lost productivity, medication and healthcare expenses, and replacing an employee who is out sick. While they found no significant cost difference between work presence and absence overall, they did notice a cost difference based on the type of work performed.

“Cost associated with depression-related absence and attending work while depressed were… found to be higher for white collar workers,” Dr. Cocker explained, “who also reported poorer quality of life than blue collar workers.”

Since taking time off from work offered no significant cost or quality of life benefits among employees of any type, researchers concluded that encouraging employees to continue to work amid depressive illness may be the best path. Workplaces, however, need to be educated on the health and cost benefits of continued work among employees with depression—and adapt accordingly.

“This is important information for employers, health care professionals, and employees faced with the decision whether to continue working or take a sickness absence,” said Dr. Cocker. “It suggests that future workplace mental health promotions strategies should include mental health policies that focus on promoting continued work attendance via offering flexible work-time and modification of tasks or working environment.”

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