How to support colleagues with mental health issues
Posted by Wendy Wilson | Learning & Development Consultant on 5 November 2018
Content from Tasha Broomhall | Workplace Mental Health Specialist
There are a number of ways to support colleagues.
If an employee or colleague discloses that they have been diagnosed with mental health issues, do not assume that you know what that means for them. Even if you have firsthand knowledge of the same illness yourself, it does not mean that both of your experiences will be identical. It is important to respectfully ask about their experience so that together you can determine how it may be relevant in the workplace, and ascertain any adjustments or supports that may be required.
- Thank them for trusting you with this information.
- You could say something like: “I understand a little bit about what… (depression/anxiety/ schizophrenia/bipolar) means for some people. Can you tell me what it means for you?” and then really listen to them.
- Ask them about if it is likely to impact on them in their work functioning? If so, is there anything that might help with this?
- Have an open honest non-judgemental conversation.
Supervisors and managers need to have a broad understanding of common mental illnesses and their possible functional impacts, so that when they identify these impacts, they will be able to meet their obligation to implement reasonable adjustments where possible. When designing reasonable adjustments, it is imperative that every effort is taken to balance the organisation’s operational needs (including possible impacts on other employees) with the specific needs of the employee in question.
The model below can assist in designing and implementing reasonable adjustments:
- Analyse (the core requirements of the job – e.g. key tasks, workflow issues, seasonal variations, KPI’s, location/work area issues, etc.),
- Assess (the employee’s functional capacity against these core requirements, using multiple sources of information – the individual, their supervisors, work output measurements, observations, etc.),
- Identify (possible reasonable adjustments to accommodate for the functional impacts).
- The identified adjustments may require approval and discussion with HR/ senior management:
- Engage and articulate the process and decisions to the employee as you progress,
- Be conscious of confidentiality obligations and only share private employee information appropriately,
- Determine with the employee how any visible adjustments will be articulated to other employees.
- Keep a record of the process:
- the determined adjustments,
- time frame for trial and review,
- KPI’s for review and how the adjustments are being articulated to others.
Follow up and follow through
It is a good idea to start with a trial period and assess from there if the adjustments can or need to become permanent.
Some examples of adjustments
- Allow telephone calls during work hours to doctor/counsellor/ other supports, and provide a private place to do so,
- Flexibility with work schedule – hours/start time/work from home/change of duties,
- Minute all meetings and expectations to assist with memory and concentration issues,
- Don’t force people to attend social events,
- Be more inclusive in the design of work functions to meet a variety of needs and interests.
Resources for managers
Return to work
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Consider how you can be flexible with leave;
Encourage the employee to access your EAP provider;
Recognise the possible impacts on their functioning and explore reasonable adjustments with them;
Develop an overall Workplace Mental Health Strategy so employees know what support is available and leaders develop the knowledge and skills to fulfil their obligations.