You have a co-worker who is clinically diagnosed with depression. She calls in sick and unable to get out of bed very often. 6 months into the year, she has been away from work a total of 10 weeks. This is a small company with few employees, resulting in less productivity in the workplace. Moreover, she has become difficult to work with, as she is very sensitive and unable to accept any criticism.

Questions to the Applicant

1. What is going through your mind?

This is a sensitive situation to handle, as clinical depression is an illness that requires attention, support and the proper means to get to a better place. However, on the contrary, with a co-worker that is constantly missing in an already small company, there will be greater pressure on other employees to ensure productivity remains the same with her in absentia. In this instance, I acknowledge the co-worker needs help and support, but the company will need to take necessary steps to ensure there is no burnout or frustration that carries over in the rest of the team.

2. If you were the boss, what would you do?

Although what she is going through is an extremely private matter, as her boss, it is important for me to reach out to her and find out how she is coping, as well find out how best the company can support her and ensure she feels like a valued member of the team as she navigates her recovery. In my information gathering process, I would request a doctor’s note confirming the diagnosis of depression (similar to what is required for other ailments). The purpose of requesting the note would be to verify her claim in order to ensure I would be able to use the rights I may have through company policy to offer sick leave. I would ask if she has access to the resources she needs for recovery, for instance, has she been able to get medical help through the company’s health insurance? If so, that is great, if not, it will be my responsibility to ensure she has the support she needs. During this discussion, should I learn that she has all the support she needs but is going through the journey of recovery, I would offer her the opportunity to take some paid sick leave, to allow her to pursue recovery without the additional stress of work. That would enable her to focus on recovery, but also enable me to find a temporary employee to cover her position in her absence to ensure that company goals and objectives are still achieved. When she is feels strong enough to return to work, I would ensure her job is available for her. It is important to realize that mental illness should be treated in the same way as we would a physical illness. For instance, if someone had been in a car accident and requires a few months to recover, they would be granted that opportunity, so this employee struggling with depression or similar illnesses should be granted the same opportunity.

3. Tell us about a time you had to support a friend or colleague during difficult times?

My friend’s mother was diagnosed with cancer and underwent surgery followed by months of chemotherapy. This was a difficult time for my friend and her family. Though I could not do anything to change the diagnosis, I did everything I could to support my friend and her family. I would make meals once a week that I delivered to their home, go to hospital visits with them whenever I could, and I invited my friend out to fun events occasionally to help her find the opportunity to relax. Eventually, her mother recovered and is now doing well and my bond with my friend is stronger than ever. This situation taught me the value of supporting others during difficult times, and the big impact of small acts of kindness. These are lessons I will use to continue to serve my community. 

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I have a question concerning the approach the boss took for this situation: is this not gaslighting the individual by automatically assuming that their absence, performance and sensitivity is due to their depression? Would it not be more appropriate to address the work related concerns of the individual and allow them to discuss whether it is related to their depression or other extenuating concerns? Thank you.


BeMo Academic Consulting

Hello A.B. Thanks for your comment. You can certainly try approaching your colleague to discuss whether their issues stem from something else. This will show that you want to gather more information as well.