Squeaky Clean

A Case Of The Blues

Every business experiences tough times--a big client takes its business elsewhere, you need to lay off employees, or you're in a cash crunch and can't offer raises. When hard times hit your company, you or your employees may suffer from depression. Left unattended, business-related depression can suck the enthusiasm and energy out of everyone involved--and, in turn, make matters worse for your business. So as you concentrate on pulling the business through the hard times, don't overlook your organization's emotional needs.

Open and honest communication with employees about the status of the company is essential, according to Nancy Garbett, president of Transition Management Inc., a management consulting firm in Salt Lake City. "Employees need to understand what changes are occurring and what it means for them," Garbett says. If they are feeling insecure or stressed because they don't know what's happening with the company, they won't perform at their maximum levels, and they could hinder the company's recovery and future development.

Don't hide bad news or pretend things are better than they are--your employees will see through any smokescreen. "If the owner is saying that everything is okay, but in fact it's not, everybody is going to know it's not," says Garbett. Be sure your staff understands what the situation really is, what the future possibilities are, and what you expect them to do if the company's going to get through the crisis. Keep in mind, most people become emotionally attached to their workplace and colleagues, and trouble in that arena can affect them as much as a personal crisis, such as a divorce or a death in the family.

You don't need to be able to distinguish true clinical depression from the occasional bad day, but you should be alert to potential problems, says Patricia Weik, a consultant, clinical psychologist and lawyer with RHR International Co., a management consulting company in Wood Dale, Illinois.

Weik says symptoms of depression include feelings of sadness, a loss of concentration, excessive crying, changes in eating habits, loss of energy, guilty thoughts, a sense of worthlessness or hopelessness, thoughts of suicide or even, in some cases, of homicide. If you suspect an employee is suffering from one or more of these symptoms, Weik advises addressing the situation in a direct manner. Talk to the employee privately; say you've noticed some symptoms and encourage him or her to seek appropriate and qualified help. Don't try to be a counselor, but have referral options ready and know what type of coverage your insurance offers. If you're unsure about your local resources, Weik says the psychiatry department of a reputable hospital is a good place to start.

When talking with a troubled employee, avoid minimizing his or her feelings. "A lot of people will want to back away from this uncomfortable situation and say something like `It's not that bad; things are okay.' What that does for a depressed person is essentially tell them they're being ridiculous, that things are not as bad as they think; and that gets them into another negative spiral," says Weik. "You need to normalize the process for them. Say `Yes, this is really a tough situation, and most people would feel bad in your shoes.' "

While encouraging employees to seek help for their depression, don't ignore your own well-being. If you find yourself experiencing any of the symptoms associated with depression, take the time to seek help.

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This article was originally published in the January 1998 print edition of Entrepreneur with the headline: Squeaky Clean.

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