Your Employees are Depressed: Why Business Isn’t Booming–And What You Can Do About It
Depression: A Major U.S. Export?
In the United States and elsewhere, many people are just tired of all the economic ups and downs—and just don’t believe in the system anymore. Mental health in the workplace is at an all-time low, and workers don’t feel secure about the future. Even those fortunate few workers who believe they have stable jobs and good bosses may suffer from work-related depression. Psychologist Robert Ostermann, an expert on workplace stress, pointed out that, at the outset of the 21st century, in countries that emulated “the American model” (Taiwan, Hong Kong, Singapore) there was more stress. As outsourcing continues to be a solution made-in-America, stress continues to escalate in call centers in India, IT companies in India and China, electronics manufacturing companies in Asia, the Philippines, and South America, and all across the globe.
After Sept 11, 2001, outsourcing to call centers in India, for example, increased dramatically as a way American corporations could pay out less and have callers on the phone at hours when U.S. call center workers were sleeping. Along the way, America also outsourced its customer service problems and its stress: Americans expected their calls to be handled by people who spoke good English, understood their accents and their concerns, and could offer clear solutions. When customer service issues were handled by call centers in India, the U.S. company that hired the call center was often criticized and held to higher standards by critical customers who then became suspicious of the company they believed they were doing business with in the first place. For most call centers in India, with the jobs and income came the stress of having a call center that was up to U.S. standards.
How Many Depressed Workers Are There?
According to surveys described in The Times of India (Feb 19, 2013), 66% of employees in India suffer from stress and admit they have trouble focusing at work because of stress. Whether it is caused by the very real demands of multi-tasking or by the unreasonable requirements of an unsympathetic and harsh work environment, lack of focus is a major symptom of depression. At call centers in India, where poor management and stress are legend, stress is extreme; yet in 2013, stress is part of every job, every industry, and every country. As of 2011, a quarter of the world’s workforce admitted to suffering from depression, and 92% assert that their depression is job-related http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/11/11/nearly-quarter-of-global-workforce-depressed_n_1088785.html .
According to a 2013 article in The International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, “Depression in the workplace is a global concern.” Michael Mazaar, author of Global Trends 2005, points out that “Depression is now…the world’s second most insidious illness” (after heart disease). Workers in call centers in India, the Philippines, and the U.S. are greatly at risk because customer service work on the phone is so stressful, but all types of jobs that involve multitasking and the potential for misunderstandings put workers at risk for depression. In the U.S. in 2001, job stress cost industry over $300 billion a year; what are the costs in 2013—if stress in the workplace has doubled or tripled? What are the current costs in the workplace–globally—because of stress due to outsourcing, national debt, mortgage interest rates, global warming, earthquakes and tsunamis, terrorism, global political meltdowns, and the threat of constant war? Human beings are aware of these issues, even if they do not consciously think about them or discuss them. These issues are real, and cannot be easily dispelled by talking about them…which may explain the current focus on medications: according to CNN, use of anti-depressant medications has gone up 400% since the late 1980’s.
Tip: If you think you are depressed: Spending time in nature (gardening, hiking, walking), exercise, and proper diet will bring you most of the benefits of the chemicals in medication. Also, studies demonstrate that just choosing to focus on the positive increases your serotonin levels.
Am I Depressed? Are Workers in my Office Depressed? How Can I Tell?
If you work in a call center or an office job in India, the U.S., or the Philippines, you may have noticed workers who are
· more and more forgetful
· often late
· prone to error and missed deadlines
· easily distracted
· gaining or losing weight
· fond of alcohol
These are common symptoms of depression, a product of stress, and may be observable in your workplace. “Stress comes from bad managers,” says Robert Hogan, PhD, an expert on personality in the workplace. If you are a manager in a call center in India, the Philippines, the U.S.—or a manager in any office—you are in a position to help your employees and your company by finding out about employees suffering from depression.
According to Forbes, 65% of Americans surveyed said in 2012 that they would rather have a good boss than more money. Call centers in India are notorious for bad managers…but managers in the U.S. or anywhere else can be just as bad. A 2009 Harvard Business Review survey reported that “the majority of people say they trust a stranger more than they trust their boss.”
So What should I Do?
If You Are a Manager or a Boss:
1. Having healthy employees is good for business: According to an MIT study, depression costs “tens of billions of dollars” each year in terms of loss of productivity, time off from work, and health care or costs for treatment. Hire, train, and keep employees who are healthy and have a healthy way of relating to others—in person and on the phone.
2. Screen employee responses as you train workers. Give employees clear directions, realistic goals, rewards, and consequences. Talk in a pleasant and rational manner. Make employees feel safe. Let healthy employees mentor those who are on edge.
3. Observe employees at work. Don’t ignore any symptoms you observe. Be on the lookout for bullying or other behaviors that create stress. Ask questions and have employees see a company doctor if needed.
If You Are an Employee:
1. Manage yourself. Be aware of how you feel and how you react to others. If you are not happy at work, figure out why and make a plan to correct the situation.
2. Don’t just let the situation keep on the way it is. If you need more direction or different tasks and hours, speak up. Ask for help at the beginning, and follow directions.
3. Do your job. If you know the workplace environment is bad for you, find another job with a better work environment. If you can’t find another job, do everything to function better—including medication, if you need it.
Few workers feel the workplace is a friendly environment they can trust or feel comfortable in. Are workers at call centers in India and the Philippines taking the heat from U.S. business problems? According to Forbes, “The United States is a nation in decline” and the U.S. has slipped to 12th place in the list of the world’s happiest (read: most prosperous and stable) countries http://www.forbes.com/sites/christopherhelman/2013/01/09/the-worlds-happiest-and-saddest-countries-2/ .
Let’s face facts: terrible workplaces and poor job security are everywhere. In India and China, for example, only 40% of people surveyed in 2013 believe it is a good time to find a job. On the surface, these countries seem to be doing better than the U.S., but workers in India, China, and even the Philippines exhibit their own symptoms of depression. Labor issues, the high cost of food, worker safety, long hours, and poor wages are real: it’s not just about having a job, but the quality of the job and the work environment, too.
The Moral of the Story?
Despite the reports we hear of a boom elsewhere, there is no place where workers feel life is safe and the future is rosy enough to keep on working as usual. Whether you work in a call center in India or an office in the Philippines or the U.S., there is stress. In the workplace, do something good for others, and it will come back to you in increased productivity and focus.
Looking for the perfect country to do business with is like the old story of the house with the golden windows at sunset: a girl has always seen a house with golden windows. When she travels there one evening at sunset, the windows are not golden, and the boy of that house points out that the house with the golden windows is at the other side of the valley: he turns and points to her own house.
Perhaps the moral is still to look to your own house, your own country—instead of pointing at other countries’ productivity and bemoaning the fate or the lack of productivity of your own. We need not abandon outsourcing or doing business with those far-off countries that seem to have the golden windows, but we can try to strengthen our own nation. That means addressing problems that lead to stress and depression. It means not allowing our lives to be overtaken by the trivialities and frustrations brought about by a world that doesn’t seem to care anymore. Find the workplace that is the best for you, create a work environment that is positive, and reward the few people around you who care. Give good managers your best effort. But keep on looking.
(1) Americans are exporting depression as workers feel unsure about the future.
(2) Depression makes you forgetful, late, and distracted. Not good in the workplace!
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