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Survey of U.S. Workers Reveals Impact on Productivity from Depression

Nearly a quarter (23%) of a panel of U.S. workers and managers in a survey indicated they have received a diagnosis of depression at some time in their life and two in five of those respondents (40%) reported taking time off from work—an average of 10 days a year—as a result of their diagnosis. These are just a few of the key findings from the Impact of Depression at Work Audit (IDeA), which evaluated the societal and economic burden of depression in the workplace (Ipsos, 2014). Employers Health, an Ohio-based employer coalition, announced results for the U.S. survey at the National Business Coalition on Health annual meeting in Washington, D.C. on November 12, 2014.

The research was conducted June 11–18, 2014, with an online panel convened by contractor Ipsos MORI, a U.K.-based global marketing research company. The online panel consisted of a pre-recruited group who had agreed to take part on an online marketing research survey. Questions were asked of 1,000 respondents age 16 to 64 years who had been workers or managers within the last year (Ipsos, 2014).

The goals for the Impact of Depression at Work Audit (IDeA) were to obtain an assessment of:

  • Public understanding of the impact of depression on the ability to work, particularly symptoms impacting an individual’s ability to think and function productively at work.
  • Employer recognition of the cognitive symptoms of depression and unmet needs in training and support for employees with depression.
  • Stigma as a barrier to improving the identification and management of depression.

Survey results demonstrate that depression significantly impacts productivity in the workplace. Highlights of the findings are summarized below (Ipsos, 2014):

  • Sixty-four percent of survey participants who had received a diagnosis of depression reported that cognitive-related challenges, defined as difficulty concentrating, indecisiveness, and/or forgetfulness, had the most impact on their ability to perform tasks at work as normal. Presenteeism (being at work, but not engaged/productive) has been found to be exacerbated by these cognitive-related challenges.
  • The symptoms of depression are known to cause people significant distress or impairment in social, occupational, and other important areas of life, but many people may not feel comfortable seeking treatment because of stigma and fear of repercussions, such as losing their job or not receiving a promotion.
  • More than one-half (58%) of survey participants who had received a diagnosis of depression indicated they had not informed their employer.
  • Forty-nine percent of survey participants who had received a diagnosis of depression felt telling their employer about their diagnosis would put their job at risk and 24% felt it was too risky to share with their employer, given the economic climate.

The degree to which people feel uncomfortable revealing their diagnosis is of concern because such fear could discourage people from reaching out for treatment and/or requesting flexibility or a reasonable accommodation when needed. While they need not necessarily name the specific diagnosis, employees with depression should feel comfortable requesting a modification in work hours in order to go to medical appointments, for example.

These effects of depression contribute to the estimated $100 billion annual cost of depression for U.S. employers, including $44 billion a year in lost productivity alone (Beck et al., 2014; Stewart, Ricci, Chee, Hahn, & Morganstein, 2003). In addition, mental illness short-term disability claims have grown by 10% annually (Marlowe, 2002).

Unfortunately, this prevalence and unmet need do not currently translate into help for people with depression, as more than 35% of managers who participated in the survey reported receiving no formal support or resources to guide their employees (Ipsos, 2014).

Overall, the results demonstrate the vital need for employers to provide support and resources in the workplace for those living with the effects of this debilitating disease.

About the Author

Marcas Miles, MA, is senior director of marketing and communications at Employers Health.

Last Updated: December 2016


  • Beck, A., Crain, L., Solberg, L., Unützer, J., Maciosek, M., Whitebird, R., & Rossom, R. (2014). The effect of depression treatment on work productivity. American Journal of Managed Care, 20(8), E294–E301.
  • Ipsos. (2014, July). Executive summary, IDeA Survey, Impact of Depression at Work: U.S. Report.
  • Marlowe, J. F. (2002, March). Depression’s surprising toll on worker productivity. Employee Benefits Journal, 27(1), 16–20.
  • Stewart, W. F., Ricci, J. A., Chee, E., Hahn, S. R., & Morganstein, D. (2003). Cost of lost productive work time among US workers with depression. JAMA, 289, 3135–3144.

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