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Managing and Supporting Employees with Mental Health Conditions

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With statistics like 1 in 5 Australian workers live with a mental health condition, it is important for managers to know how to manage and support all workers and provide a safe and healthy workplace. A healthy and safe workplace provides structure and purpose, a sense of identity and opportunities for individuals to develop skills and increased feelings of self-worth.

As a manager, you are responsible for ensuring that psychological and physical health and safety is integrated into planning, resourcing, and communications throughout the business. Hazards and incidents must be acted on proactively and effectively. You are not expected to be a counsellor, but you do need to act, and act early and with respect.

As a leader, you need to lead by example! Cast a critical eye over your own behaviour and language in your workplace – are you modelling behaviours that are psychologically healthy and safe to your staff? There is nothing more destructive in a workplace than a manager indulging in bad behaviours – trash talking staff, not acting on issues, vocally poo-pooing sexual harassment and mental health training requirements, playing favourites. These behaviours can all lead to mental health impacts to staff, and you could be personally prosecuted under the WHS Act for the injuries caused.

What can we do in a workplace to provide support to employees?

  • Ensure you are promoting a healthy and safe workplace for all. Address any work-related stressors early and effectively.
  • Inform yourself about early warning signs of mental health distress (unusual behaviour, withdrawal, self-medicating, unable to make decisions, lapses in memory, unplanned absences, conflict etc).
  • If employees speak to you about their mental health issues, listen with empathy and act with discretion. Always maintain the person’s privacy and ask permission to involve others in any support actions.
  • Work with the employee to develop a suitable work plan that provides clarity on roles and responsibilities, as well as providing any reasonable adjustments (*) available.
  • Check in with the employee on a regular basis and provide positive feedback.
  • Offer support facilities and resources available, such as Employee Assistance Programs and encouraging the employee to seek help from their medical practitioner.

If there are performance issues that need to be addressed along with mental health issues, provide support and reasonable adjustments before following formal performance management procedures.

* Reasonable adjustments can include changing rosters or work locations, flexible working hours, establishing goals and priorities, providing access to support resources.

If you would like to know more, you can get in touch with Michelle Bates, our Work Health, Safety & Compliance Advisor, and More information can be found in the Heads Up article.

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