Mental health is a hot topic at the moment with various initiatives raising the awareness of the mental health struggles that many people are facing. Managing mental health in the workplace is fraught with confusion as many managers are unsure of their responsibilities and how to manage the psychological wellbeing of their staff.
Managers are faced with 3 main dilemmas:
- how to spot staff with mental health issues
- how to manage staff with mental health issues
- how to future proof their organisations by promoting psychological safety and awareness
There is a baseline obligation from employers to support employees that are going through mental issues at work. It is unlawful under the Fair Work Act 2009 to terminate an employee because of their mental health and doing so can open the employer up to a disability discrimination claim. To avoid this, the first step is being able to identify potential issues.
Managers can learn to spot staff who may be experiencing new mental health challenges. Common signs and symptoms to look out for include:
- reduced concentration and productivity
- missing deadlines/shifts
- attention to detail is less than usual
- less engaged than usual
- lower than usual work standards
- anti-social behaviour or withdrawal from colleagues, customers and clients
- becoming negative and not solutions focused
- difficulty controlling emotions and behaviour at work
- increased absenteeism
Once these signs and symptoms have been identified, it’s important to have a sensitive conversation with the staff member to see if there is a mental health concern or something else is going on. Staff members are under no legal obligation to share their mental health status with their employer, which can make things difficult for managers. If they choose not to, coaching, training and support and performance management become potential avenues to explore.
If the employee chooses to share their mental health challenges, the manager needs to be armed with potential options where the individual can source help if they are not currently doing so and the first port of call should always be their GP.
Managers have the right to ask certain questions about an employee’s mental health condition if it has been disclosed. They are entitled to ask questions:
- to determine whether the person can perform the inherent requirements of their job
- to identify if any reasonable adjustments may be needed in the work environment or to their role
- to establish facts for entitlements such as sick leave, superannuation, workers’ compensation and other insurance.
To determine whether an employee with a mental illness is capable of performing the inherent requirements of their job, the employer should obtain medical evidence from the employee’s treating medical practitioner and/or an independent medical practitioner. This will help to support the manager’s decision-making and mitigate against the risk of the employee later making a successful disability claim against the employer.
Under the Disability Discrimination Act 1992, employers must make reasonable adjustments to support people with a disability (including a mental health condition) provided the person is able to fulfil the core requirements of the job.
Adjustments can be temporary or permanent and are usually relatively inexpensive. They can incorporate:
1. Changes to working hours or location and might include:
- reviewing working hours to allow for the effects of medication
- working part time or split shifts for a set period
- taking more frequent breaks
- making changes to your shift or work location
- making environmental adjustments to avoid excessive light or noise – for example, moving desks.
2. Adjustments to workload such as:
- reducing workload or modifying tasks
- reviewing deadlines
- varying tasks
- establishing reminders and checklists to assist with time-management
3. Training and support
- professional mentoring, coaching or on-the-job peer support
- weekly meetings to review what is working well and discuss issues as they arise
- extra time to learn tasks
Managing mental health issues at work is a given for the foreseeable future. Managers need to undertake training around how to best support their staff. We’ll explore future proofing the work environment next time. If you would like information about Managing staff wellbeing, contact Jill on 1300 850959