While working on my continuing education units for my health insurance license I ran across a term I had never heard or seen before: presenteeism. As you might conclude, presenteeism is somewhat the opposite of absenteeism. With presenteeism, the employee shows up for work but because of illness, chronic condition, family issues, or depression the person is not very effective or efficient. The lack of production or presenteeism costs the company money.
From the Kaiser Permanente module “Linking Presenteeism to Productivity”
Presenteeism is the loss of productivity that occurs when employees come to work while ill or distracted (e.g., suffering from depression) and therefore cannot perform well.
For every dollar spent in direct medical costs, presenteeism is an indirect medical expense that costs a business an additional $2 to $3. With the national average of combined direct medical costs hovering around $7,000 a year per employee, presenteeism-driven productivity losses could cost employers more than $14,000 a year per worker.
It is such a bummer when you read something and it is like having a spot light beamed directly at you. For years I was the poster boy for presenteeism and I never knew it. My affliction: depression.
To be clear, we are not talking about the depression of “I am blue because my team lost the World Series”. We are talking about the type of depression that seeps into your very soul and paralyzes you from normal engagement with friends, family, co-workers, and work. Depression for me in high school and college was more episodic. I would have a bad bout then snap out of it as situations morphed in my favor. It was not until I got jobs that were more ‘routine’ in nature that the depression would manifest itself for weeks at a time with no end in sight.
From my vantage point, I didn’t think I had much of a problem. But when you have friends come up to you and say, “Kev, I scored some Prozac from my neighbor, you want a pop a few?” That’s a pretty good indicator that the fungus of depression has taken over your entire being and you are making everyone else completely miserable.
I never lost a job to depression but I have lost plenty of sleep, friends, family and opportunities for advancement. If you have never experienced a real ongoing hurricane of depression my best analogy is an utter loss of hope. Hope that life will get better (even if it is pretty good). Hope that you have some sort of value or worth to friends, family or your job. Hope that you are making a difference to the world and to the ones around you. When there is no hope you question your very existence.
Much of my depression stemmed from a feeling of being powerless or a failure at my attempts to move forward. Part of the frustration of depression is that the issues that trigger depression are a matter of perspective. The depression inducing dead-end-job of today is a joy when that same job allows you tremendous amounts of time with family and friends. My failure to achieve my financial goals depends on whether I see the glass as half empty or half full.
But I don’t want to make depression out to be so simplistic that a little bit of advice from a self-help columnist will make the problem go away. There are real organic brain imbalances happening with depression.
My depression was and can be acute. Even though I was counseled to seek drug therapy from more than one person, I always resisted that path. The only glimmer of hope I had was that I knew what triggered my depression. Others are not so fortunate. I can almost pinpoint the situations, conversations or series of events that push me into the hole. Once I am in the hole of depression I will either float to the top with the rising water or continue to sink like a rock. The only way for me to avoid the perils of depression is to be as independent as possible, be genuine, pursue my belief system and surround myself with supportive and intelligent people. To all my friends, family and acquaintances; you are of more value to me than you will ever know, you are my walking Prozac. I am one of the lucky ones in that I can control and, to a certain extent, ameliorate the effects of depression. Others are not so lucky. Should I be on medication? Probably, but I feel like I am making progress.
The turning point in my battle with depression came when my father died in March of 2010. I was not depressed over his death, but the freedom and opportunity I now had because I was no longer absorbed with his end of life care. There was no longer a distraction from my soul crushing job and stalled life. After a period of discernment, my first career choice was to become a monk in monastery high on a hill. Since the monastic life did not necessarily mesh with my family, I chose insurance. Am I happy and not depressed? Yes, most of the time. I would be lying if I said I never had an ‘off’ day. Financially, I am moving forward little by little. But I would rather lose money than go back to the hell of depression I suffered in so many jobs.
For those of you who know me as Mr. Happy Networking Guy, that is a big part of my personality. It is genuine and I enjoy it. I know many of you face the same challenges as I do and are battling issues and demons far greater than mine. Yet, in public, we remain positive and happy. Is there any other alternative? How I wish that optimism and motivation spilled over into other parts of my life.
For all the folks who read this and have never suffered from depression, feel as though you are blessed. As a word of advice, if you know someone who is suffering from depression, don’t offer advice. Please don’t offer up well-intentioned but trite phrases like, “It will be better tomorrow”, “Look on the bright side of things.”, “Think happy thoughts”, or “Don’t fret over the small stuff”. Such comforting words are like jabbing a dirty stick in a sucking chest wound; you are doing little to stop the bleeding and you are infecting the patient. Instead, sit with us, smile and acknowledge our existence. Often times it is the smallest act of friendship that offers the greatest therapeutic results.