Making reasonable adjustments in the workplace to the everyday work tasks of someone who is experiencing mental illness is an important way to show support and to meet your obligations.
Supervisors and managers need to have a broad understanding of the most common mental illnesses and their possible functional impacts in the workplace 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, we must balance the organisation’s operational needs (including possible impacts on other employees) with the needs of the individual employee.
Adjustments for Mental Illness in the Workplace
This simple model 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. Articulate the process and decisions to the employee as you progress through the process. 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 that can facilitate a return to work:
- 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 if this is an issue for them
The type of adjustments will need to be individually designed.
Some more examples:
- A data entry clerk who lives with social phobia and has been having panic attacks in the open reception area where her desk is located, responded well to being moved to a more private office space. Her role did not require her to be based in the reception area and so she was then able to work with less distractions and less distress. This was a reasonable adjustment as it did not affect her completing the inherent requirements of her job, and her organisation had the office space available to relocate her.
- A factory assembly line operator living with schizophrenia was on medication (which covered most of the symptoms of his illness but not all) but he experienced ongoing auditory hallucinations which he recognised were not real and yet sometimes found distracting. He was authorised to listen to music through an iPod as a distractor from his hallucinations. This assisted him in staying focussed on his task. An OHS assessment was done to ensure that he would not be at any risk by listening to the music rather than the noise of the factory.
- A senior lawyer living with bipolar disorder usually becomes unwell once every few years. However, due to the possible significant impact of his legal work, he has ongoing monitoring for his mental health. He has negotiated with his employer for them to liaise with his doctor and vice versa if either party identifies signs that he may be becoming unwell, at which point his fitness for work is assessed again.
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