Background: Depression is reported to be a major cause of illness-related sub-optimal work performance (presenteeism). However, the majority of studies examining presenteeism have relied on self-report measures of work performance. Furthermore, employers currently face a number of practical challenges in attempting to facilitate early identification of depression.
Aims: To test whether a web-based screening tool for depression could be used successfully in the workplace and whether it was possible to detect an association between rates of depression and objective measures of impaired workgroup performance.
Methods: All permanent employees of a telecommunications company with UK-based call centres were encouraged to complete a web-based psychological assessment using the Patient Health Questionnaire depression scale (PHQ-9). In addition to confidential individual level results, the tool was able to provide anonymized summary statistics for each workgroup. Four objective measures of work performance were collected for each workgroup.
Results: During the study period, 1161 web-based PHQ-9 questionnaires were completed. There was a negative linear relationship between rates of depressive symptoms and the overall performance of a workgroup (P < 0.001). The linear relationship between depression and workgroup performance remained after controlling for gender balance, percent of temporary staff, employees' perceived level of engagement and satisfaction with their line manager (P < 0.01).
Conclusions: Workgroups with high levels of depressive symptoms tend to perform poorly. Computer-aided web-based screening for symptoms of depression is feasible in a work setting.