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7 Low-Cost Steps to Help Employees Suffering Workplace Depression The insidious mental illness is a leading cause of absenteeism. Happily, some good ideas for building team cohesion make the disease much less likely.

By Matt Straz

entrepreneur daily

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

A July 2013 Gallup poll found 12 percent of workers have been diagnosed with depression at some point.

Hearing about depression is fairly common among Americans leading strenuous, over-committed lives. However, few take the time to notice how workplace depression hurts company culture and the bottom line.

According to Gallup, workplace depression costs companies an estimated $23 billion in annual productivity loss due to absenteeism. Each year, depressed workers miss an average of four to five workdays because of depression alone.

Related: What 3 Companies Are Doing to Keep Employees Healthy

Workplace depression is a serious challenge. If companies want a healthier, more productive environment for their employees, it's time to take action. Here are some ways to avoid workplace depression, make employees happier and ultimately improve the bottom line:

1. Develop a routine.

Operating on a regular routine is great way to help fight depression. The Montefiore Medical Center released a study in March 2014 about the impact of family routines on the social-emotional health of children. Research showed children who participated in at least five predictable family routines each week are more than twice as likely to have high social-emotional health.

Develop at least five weekly routines for the entire team to participate in. Possible routines could be weekly brainstorms, Monday morning coffee breaks, or end-of-day charades. Join a professional club or networking group such as a Chamber of Commerce that meets weekly and invite the whole team.

2. Change up the environment.

Staring at cubicle walls can be less than inspiring. Maybe the cubicle walls make everyone feel trapped like cave people. Try knocking them down and creating an open floor plan. Increase natural light. Create a common room with colorful furniture, like beanbags or rugs.

Change up the typical office smells with aromatherapy. A 2013 Hindawi study found aromatherapy had a positive effect on reducing anxiety, which contributes to depression. Talk to employees to find out what kind of environment inspires them, and work to bring those elements into the office.

3. Encourage taking breaks.

Paradoxically, breaks actually increase productivity. When an employee is feeling overwhelmed, recommend taking a break. Stepping away helps shift focus from an ineffective solution, opening the mind to new possible solutions.

Related: Too Depressed to Work

4. Share family-style office meals.

Enjoying work family dinners develops a sense of closeness among the team, helping members who may feel disconnected to reconnect with everyone. In fact, a 2012 Cornell study found family dinners are linked to lower levels of depressive symptoms.

5. Workout with your team.

Schedule a day where the takes an exercise class together. Go for a morning run at a nearby park once a week, or run around the office building once a day.

Studies show exercise reduces stress, a major contributing factor to depression. In fact, people suffering from depression reported significantly higher stress levels and are more likely to feel overwhelmed than the rest of the population.

6. Bring some life into the workplace.

Not everything fun has to happen outside of the office. Put a game or two in the break room, like foosball or air hockey. Schedule a Bring Your Pet to Work Day, or if it proves to be a hit, make it an everyday allowance. Studies show animal interaction significantly reduces depression.

Companies also have found allowing fun perks in the office makes employees happier, which increases productivity. Just ask Google.

7. Use a calendar.

There's no better way to keep track of important dates than by using a company calendar everyone has access to. Some digital calendars even sync to employee profiles, reminding everyone of birthdays and anniversaries throughout the busy year.

This tool can help with planning events employees will look forward to and ensuring no one forgets to recognize employees on special days, all of which makes depression that much less likely.

When it comes to improving the bottom line, depression as a factor might not be at the top of the list but it should be. The high productivity costs and missed days at work add up after a while, not to mention the negative effect unhappy employees have on others. Take control over your culture and craft an office environment that is joyful and impervious to workplace depression.

Related: 6 Ways to Promote Wellness In Your Office

Matt Straz

Founder and CEO of Namely

Matt Straz is the founder and CEO of Namely, the HR and payroll platform for the world's most exciting companies.

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