What can employers do to support and effectively manage employees who may be struggling with their mental health?
With an estimated one in five Australian adults suffering from a mental illness in any given year, this is becoming an increasingly important question for organisations to answer.
From talking to an employee with a mental illness to addressing performance concerns, here's how employers can help support workers with mental health issues.
Employers can't be expected to be experts, but when speaking with an employee about a mental health issue, it is helpful to have a basic understanding of the condition in question. This might include any symptoms, specific terms that relate to the condition and types of medications the employee is likely to be prescribed.
How conversations are framed is crucial - employers should refer to employees as 'having' mental health conditions, as opposed to 'being' schizophrenic or depressed. Employers should also understand the difference between episodic and chronic mental health issues.
Prior to conversations with employees about their mental health, employers need to ensure that they are prepared, have planned what they wish to discuss and offered the employee the opportunity to bring a support person with them. Employers may also make use of the assistance of a qualified mental health professional when approaching these meetings.
While a physical injury might be obvious, it can be much more difficult to determine if an employee is struggling with their mental health. It is important for employers to remember that there isn't always an obligation for employees to disclose their mental health status.
In these circumstances, an employer concerned about an employee's mental health can speak confidentially with them and advise them that they may be able to access support from a formal Employee Assistance Program (EAP). The employer may also wish to ask whether there is anything that they can do to modify or improve the workplace to assist the staff member.
If an affected employee has volunteered details of their mental illness, and has agreed to disclosure, employers may wish to sensitively and respectfully disseminate information about the specific condition, or even arrange for mental health specialists to attend the workplace and provide information.
Employers must not breach an affected worker's privacy and disclose matters that are personal to them. On some occasions, however, an employee's mental health condition may potentially impact other colleagues, or health and safety and must be disclosed.
When a disclosure has been made, employers need to ensure co-workers:
Workers who are struggling with mental health issues may find that they are able to contribute in a much more substantial way if their employer is prepared to make reasonable adjustments. These could include:
When an employer has concerns about an employee's capacity or capability to perform their duties, it is appropriate to apply the organisation's standard performance management system, and provide support to assist the employee. This support should be offered regardless of whether or not the employee has disclosed a mental health condition.
Employers should consider:
If the concern doesn't resolve and the adjustments don't work, employers may need to revisit the issue at a later date.
If you'd like more information, check out our series of articles on this topic, starting with Mental Health in the Workplace. WISE can also assist with drafting and implementing policies and guidelines around disclosure, reasonable adjustments and speaking to colleagues about mental health.
WISE Workplace is a multidisciplinary organisation specialising in the management of workplace behaviour. We investigate matters of corporate and professional misconduct, resolve conflict through mediation and provide consultation services for developing effective people governance.
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