Supporting Employees with Mental Health Illness
Mental health is becoming increasingly more recognised as an equally important workplace priority as physical health. By creating a positive and supportive work culture, businesses empower employees to be happy, healthy and productive at work. A supportive workplace culture is one that aims to raise awareness of mental health, educates employees regarding the signs and symptoms of problems, reduces the stigma surrounding it and ensures that employees know when and where to seek help.
It’s important to be proactive when an employee discloses that they have a mental health issue. As an employer, there are steps that need to be taken to ensure you are meeting your occupational health and safety obligations to provide a safe workplace, and to ensure that the employee is fit to perform the duties of their current role without potential aggravation if there are concerns regarding their mental health.
To ensure that you are meeting your obligations, it is recommended that the following steps be taken:
Step 1. Initiate Open Communication
Conversations with employees that display genuine care and empathy for them, active listening and an intention to maintain constructive work relationships are a powerful tool for improving engagement and promoting good mental health and wellbeing.
It is important conduct more meaningful conversations with employees and be willing to talk to the employee about their condition (as it relates to the workplace) and to express your support. At the same time, it is important to identify any potential issues which may arise in the workplace and how you can work together to address these.
Note: it is not your job to offer a diagnosis or counselling. Rather, providing emotional support is about being willing to talk about what is going on, how the person feels and their options for support
Meet with the employee:
Prior to initiating a discussion with an employee about their mental health, it is important to take the time to think about, plan and resource yourself prior to the meeting on the basics of mental health and the appropriate language to describe mental illness. Assistance/information should be sought from professionals if required.
Some things to consider when planning a meeting:
· Be clear about the purpose of the meeting - assure the employee that you intend to work with them to help them to address the issues at work and seek the support they may need. Offer the employee the opportunity to have a support person present.
· Inform the employee that their personal information and what you discuss with respect to their health, will remain confidential. Should disclosure be needed the employee should be made aware of whom the disclosure will be made to and for what purpose.
· So far as the employee is willing to disclose, try to gain an understanding of their circumstances. For example:
o how the symptoms make them feel,
o how they affect the employee's work,
o whether they are receiving good medical treatment and support and;
o what they think would help them at work.
· Discuss what policies and processes your organisation has in place to assist employee’s experiencing mental health issues i.e. reasonable adjustments; return to work arrangements
· Establish what resources the organisation can offer to assist the employee i.e. Employee Assistance Programs, flexibility and work-life balance options
During the meeting, it will be reasonable to ask questions and discuss an employee’s mental health/illness with them for the purposes of identifying support and reasonable adjustments. A good starting point is often simply asking about how they are.
Ensure that the employee is able to perform the requirements of their role safely:
While the mental health condition may not be work related, you do still have the obligation to provide a safe working environment for the employee. If you have any concerns regarding the employee’s condition and their capacity to safety perform their role, the following steps should be taken:
· At the meeting to express your concern regarding their wellbeing based on what they have disclosed to you and to advise that:
o you have an obligation to ensure that you are providing a safe work environment that will not expose them to any risk of aggravation to their current condition.
o to ensure that you can support them in undertaking their role safely, you need to understand whether there are any medical restrictions that you need to be aware of.
· Ask the employee to take a copy of their current position description to their medical practitioner and have them sign off that they are fit and able to carry out all the functions and inherent requirements of their role, and whether there are any medical restrictions that may need to be accommodated.
· Ensure that privacy and confidentiality is maintained in regards to the employee’s current condition in the workplace.
Once you have received this advice from the doctor, HR Advice Online can assist you through the next stage of this process.
Step 2. Provide support to the employee:
Do not be afraid to seek expert advice and assistance to support the employee.
Encourage the employee to seek help such as:
· encouraging them to speak with a heath provider and/or to make an appointment with their GP
· offer to assist them with contacting a counsellor, support line or employee assistance program (EAP) if you have such a program in place
· provide them with the contact details or information regarding services such as Beyond Blue
· Offer the employee resources such as written material about mental health and accessing support.
Collaboratively develop an action plan and/or reasonable adjustments
As an employer, you have a responsibility to explore reasonably practicable solutions within the workplace that will enable the employee to remain a productive member of the workforce. It is recommended that you:
· Discuss with the employee whether there are any reasonable adjustments that can be made in the workplace to support them during this time (so far as is reasonably practicable for the business). Such options could include:
o flexibility in hours of work,
o access to leave entitlements or unpaid leave if they are required to be absent from the workplace,
o reasonable work adjustments that could be made to accommodate them without compromising their core job responsibilities
· Ask the employee for their suggestions and input into strategies for supporting them to remain at work. It can be helpful to ask “What support or adjustments could we introduce to minimise triggers or support you to manage your symptoms at work?”
· Document any agreement and give a copy to the employee.
Step 3. Follow up
It is important to follow up with the employee and to review any plans or adjustments made, to ensure that the adjustments remain appropriate and that sufficient resources and supports remain available. Key things to remember:
· Arrange a follow up meeting.
· Monitor and provide feedback on progress.
· Provide support where required.