Happier workers are more productive workers, according to a new study that shows that offering comprehensive depression treatment may help employers improve their bottom line.

The study showed that depressed workers who received “enhanced” depression treatment from specially trained health care providers were more productive at work and missed fewer workdays than those who received standard treatment. That additional productivity added up to an estimated annual value of $2,601 per depressed full-time employee.

Researchers say the study is the first to demonstrate that improving the quality of care for any chronic disease can increase productivity and decrease worker absenteeism.

“Over the short term, improvements in productivity generally benefit the majority of American employers who pay salaries rather than reimburse workers for piecework or by commission,” write researcher Kathryn Rost, PhD, of the University of Colorado Health Sciences Center (search), and colleagues. “Over the longer term, improvements in productivity may translate into employee raises.”

Happier Workers Work Better

In the study, which appears in the December issue of the journal Medical Care, researchers compared the effects of depression treatment in a group of 326 full- or part-time workers who were diagnosed with depression.

The workers were randomly assigned to receive either standard depression treatment or “enhanced” treatment from specially trained health care providers who encouraged workers to consider antidepressant medication and/or counseling.

The patients in the enhanced care group were also contacted in person or over the phone to reassess their symptoms periodically and educate them about depression treatment options. The provider also encouraged the patient to stick with their depression treatment and adjusted the treatment plan as needed.

Researchers measured the effects of the two treatment approaches on worker productivity, as collected by the patients’ reports of their effectiveness at work, and the total number of missed work hours due to illness or doctor visits over the course of two years.

The results showed that the enhanced-care depression treatment group reported a 6.1 percent increased productivity over two years. The intervention improved productivity by 8.2 percent among consistently employed depressed workers.

The annual economic benefit associated with this improvement in consistently employed workers is $1,982 per depressed full-time employee. In addition, improved depression treatment reduced absenteeism by 28.4 percent or 12.3 days over this two-year period for an estimated annual value of $619 per depressed full-time employee.

These benefits were substantially greater than those gained by those who had standard depression treatment.

Researchers say employers often ask for evidence of the value of health interventions in business terms they can understand, and these results may provide that proof.

“Corporations employing stable workforces whose business interests are served by present and productive workers have reason to encourage health plans to improve primary care depression treatment,” write the researchers. “In ensuring benefits for themselves, corporations may also contribute to improving their employees’ lives.”

By Jennifer Warner, reviewed by Brunilda Nazario, MD

SOURCES: Rost, K. Medical Care, December 2004; vol 42: pp 1202-1210. New release, The Health Behaviors News Service.