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Return to Work Strategies Critical for Employees Living With Depression

Two-thirds of returning employees have lingering difficulties

Ottawa, September 10, 2013 – Organizations across Canada need to put in place graduated return-to-work strategies and other accommodations to help employees who return to work after being treated for depression. This recommendation is part of a series of conclusions in a new Conference Board report, Depression in the Workplace: Insights From Employees and Supervisors, published today.

stressed woman in deskThe new survey of employees and supervisors found that after a work absence due to depression, two-thirds of employees who return have difficulties concentrating, remembering things, making decisions, and performing tasks—even after being medically cleared to return to their jobs.

According to the report, the specific strategies and accommodations required will depend on the individual’s circumstances but might include reducing distractions to improve concentration or providing minutes of meetings to assist with memory and follow-up tasks.

“Individuals who experience depression can show a significant decline in their work productivity and problems can arise even years after the period of depression. This has a significant impact for employers in terms of lost productivity,” said Louise Chenier, Senior Research Associate.

“It’s important to stress that once an accommodation measure has been identified and implemented successfully, the employee should be treated like all other employees. The temptation is to lower expectations. This approach can lead to inequities between employees and perceptions of unfairness.”


  • In Canada, approximately 16 per cent of women and 11 per cent of men will experience a major depression in their lifetimes, according to Health Canada.
  • Absenteeism is one factor associated with lost productivity, but a more critical factor is presenteeism—where an individual is working but not fully productive.
  • Managers need training to recognize the signs and symptoms of mental health issues and ensure employees receive the support required.

The results are based on a Conference Board survey of 2,004 individuals (including 727 front-line supervisors), conducted between February 18 and March 5, 2013. In all, 147 respondents had taken either a short- or long-term leave of absence from work due to depression.

The overall study results align with other research showing that individuals experiencing depression often continue to suffer from cognitive symptoms even after treatment.

Funding for this research was provided by Lundbeck Canada Inc. The findings and conclusions of this report are entirely those of The Conference Board of Canada and do not necessarily represent those of Lundbeck Canada Inc. The report is available at

The findings of this study will be presented on Wednesday, October 30, at the Conference Board’s Wellness and Sustainable Health Care Summit in Toronto. Additional research on wellness and workplace health will be presented at Disability Management and Benefits 2013: Driving Productivity with Effective Workplace Practices on October 28-29, also in Toronto.

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