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Policy and Procedure

By Tasha Broomhall

Would you allow time off and a graduated return to work for an employee after a heart attack? Would you make adjustments to support an employee with a broken limb who needed a change in duties during recovery?

It is imperative that organisations respond to a person with mental illness with the same underpinning principles that they would apply to an employee with a physical illness or disability. Mental health issues are common and should be recognised as a part of general health. Employees’ mental health issues can have significant human and economic impacts in an organisation and appropriate responses and adjustments should be written in to policy and procedures.

Human toll aside, the economic impacts of untreated mental health issues in the workplace include increased absenteeism and presenteeism (decreased productivity), decreased morale, and higher staff turnover. What does this cost your organisation? It is estimated that every employee with untreated depression alone, costs organisations almost $10,000 per year1. However, little effort is made to offset these losses despite research that shows that every dollar invested in the mental health of employees will have almost 500% return in regained productivity.

To be able to start to reduce the costs – both to people and to businesses, we need to improve the mental health culture in our organisations.

Employers are required to make ‘reasonable adjustments’ to support the employment of people with mental illness.

It is important to understand that:

• Not all people will experience symptoms or functional impacts that are obvious to others.
• Not all employees will require workplace adjustments.
• Not all employees will want to disclose.
• An employee’s illness may fluctuate and the organisation’s responses need to be flexible as well.
• Employees do not always require time off work to recover.
• Treatment is as individual as the individual and the illness itself. Respect their right to self- determination.
• A mental illness is not an intellectual disability.
• Mental illness is common and you will likely have some employees with mental health
issues without ever knowing it.

Managers and Supervisors need to know their roles and responsibilities in responding to mental health issues in the workplace. They need to know what is legally required to ensure that they are not unwittingly discriminating against employees because of their mental illness. They need strategies to approach and address employees with mental health issues; the ability to recognise the functional impacts for what they are; have the appropriate conversations with employees; and skills to develop reasonable workplace accommodations for employees with a diagnosed mental illness.

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