If your employee had a broken leg, would you pretend you didn’t notice and have them carry on with their work (even if they couldn’t manage it)?
Of course not.
Sadly, employers often take this approach when it comes to supporting employees with their mental health. Yes, it’s not as obvious as a broken leg, but as a manager, you need to build the confidence to ask employees how they are, and support them when they’re not.
So what should you do?
Observe changes in employees
Lateness, tiredness, decreased productivity etc.
Have a chat
A simple “is everything okay? You don’t seem yourself, do you want to talk?” can be all that’s needed.
Create an environment where the employee won’t feel judged for telling you.
Work with them
Find out what may trigger an episode of poor mental health and create alternative solutions, e.g. sharing work duties, working from home part-time, working with others more, working alone more etc.
Make a plan
Settle on options to help them and put it in writing. Keep revisiting your plan.
Offer soft referrals
You don’t need to know a psychologist, but if your company has an Employee Assistance Program then let them know how it works. If you don’t have an EAP, encourage them to talk to their GP for a referral onto a mental health professional.
Go straight to Performance Plan (PP) mode
If they’re late, missing deadlines or not performing, work with them to provide support them in the first instance, a PP should not be a starting point.
Go against requests for confidentiality
If they don’t want you to tell anyone else, don’t. If you absolutely must disclose their condition to someone else, seek their permission first (you’re only obligated to disclose if it is a safety issue at work or they’re unable to meet job requirements).
Make sure you learn the facts about mental illnesses so you understand what’s going on. Here’s a quick list of basic facts about mental illness from sane.org to get started.
Think you have to solve their problems
You are not a mental health professional. You do not have to diagnose or treat. Your job is to support your employee so they can do their job.
Avoid talking about mental health in your workplace
Familiarity reduces stigma. Put mental health on meeting agendas, refer to it in newsletters, talk about it in OH&S teams.
Remember: if you have an employee living with a mental health condition (and chances are you eventually will, as 45% of us will experience poor mental health in our lifetime) it’s worth your while to help them out. A 2014 return on investment analysis by PricewaterhouseCoopers found that for every dollar spent on creating a mentally healthy workplace, there would be a $2.30 benefit to the organisation.