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Achieving a Balanced Response

By Tasha Broomhall

Responding to Mental Health Issues In The Workplace

Essential to developing a culture of positive psychological wellbeing is a team of leaders with the skills and confidence to recognise and appropriately respond to mental health issues in the workplace.

Unfortunately many leaders state that they know nothing about mental health issues, or that they’ve never known anyone with a mental disorder. This can result in perceptions based on stereotypical community and media representations which have a negative effect on the psychological wellbeing of employees, which in turn has a negative impact on productivity and staff retention.

Dealing With The Issues

There are, however, leaders who acknowledge that they can identify when their employees are possibly experiencing mental health issues. Leaders who can identify a range of symptoms which get their attention and make them concerned, yet they often say that they don’t know how to deal with these issues.

While they don’t want to ignore an individual who seems to be having problems, they also don’t want to intrude on that individual’s privacy. They are sometimes reluctant to performance manage if the performance is affected by mental health concerns, and yet they still need to balance the organisation’s needs. Many report feeling stuck and clumsy in these situations.

Achieving a Balanced Response

It is important to understand that:

  • Not all people with mental health issues will experience symptoms or functional impacts which are obvious to others.
  • Not all employees with mental health issues will require workplace adjustments.
  • Not all employees will want to disclose their mental health issues in the workplace.
  • A person’s mental health issues may fluctuate in terms of symptoms and functional impacts, as such employer’s responses need to be flexible.
  • Employees with mental health issues do not always require time off work to recover. Many can continue to work well while recovering.
  • The type of treatment that a person chooses for their mental health issues is just as individual as the experience of the mental health issue itself. Respect a person’s right to self‐determination.
  • A mental health issue is not an intellectual disability.
  • Mental health issues are common in our community and as such you will likely have some employees with mental health issues without ever knowing it.
  • Stigma and misunderstanding of mental health issues is still common in our community, and organisations can make people reluctant to disclose their experiences and to seek help. Fostering an environment of respect can assist with this – mental health needs to be spoken of in preventative and responsive OSH terms, in the same way as physical health.

What Should We Do?

So how do we achieve a balance? How do we manage the human needs of employees along with the employer’s business needs? Importantly, it is unlawful to discriminate against an employee because of mental health issues?

Employers are required to make ‘reasonable adjustments’ to support the employment of people with mental health issues. The key is for leaders to understand what this means in practice. Leaders need to develop the skills to:

  • Understand their roles and responsibilities to respond to mental health issues in the workplace.
  • Understand the possible functional impacts of common mental health issues.
  • Know how to minimise psychological injury risks for their employees.
  • Be equipped with the skills to have appropriate conversations with employees if they are concerned about an employee’s mental health.
  • Have the skills to develop and implement reasonable workplace adjustments as required.

Psychologically Safe Workplaces

Organisations are obliged to create psychologically safe workplaces which includes minimising psychological injury risk and responding appropriately to mental health issues when they arise. Leaders can not do this in isolation. They need to be appropriately trained and supported to meet these obligations.

This is an edited extract from the book Bloom! At Work, written by Tasha Broomhall. The book is available for purchase here.

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Image credit: Bekir Dönmez (Unsplash).

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