There isn’t a one size fits all approach to supporting employees who have a mental health condition. What works for one employee won’t necessarily work for another, so it’s important that support is provided on an individual level.
One thing you can consider as a blanket rollout however, is your attitude, expectations and communication. Employees can tell when you’re being insincere, so make sure you’re genuine and positive at all times.
First and foremost, it’s imperative that you listen to the employee, and understand the severity of their condition – this will help you propose and form adjustments for them.
When it comes to forming adjustments, a good starting point would be to ask the employee what adjustments they think will help them – after all, they know themselves best. We’re not saying you have to adhere to every request, but once you have their suggestions, you can see which ones are practicable to work around.
If you’re unable to get any direction from the employee, you could test a few adjustments out that you think might be beneficial, and review them after the test period to see if they’re helping.
Availability and approachability: give employees ample opportunity to discuss any concerns or problems with you, and try to make yourself available for any ad-hoc issues. Although it’s unintentional, turning an employee away could add to their woes.
In addition, make sure the employee feels comfortable approaching you. The last thing you want is employees bottling things up for fear of coming to you. This will leave them feeling isolated, and could result in their condition increasing in severity.
Flexible working: if practicable, you could allow the employee to switch to flexible working. This can take the pressure off, and could help with things like: making appointments; morning’s where employees struggle to face the outside world; bad days where they simply can’t come to work, but are able to make the hours up another time.
But remember, for some, the structure of a daily routine might be exactly what they need.
Working from home: another option could be to allow employees to work from home every now and then. Not having to face the work environment – and everything it entails – could relieve stress for some.
Workspace: sometimes, something as simple as a workspace that’s open to more natural light or less background noise can help put employees at ease. The former could be particularly beneficial for those with seasonal depression.
Relax your stance: for things like sickness absence and last minute appointments, if you can, you could offer leniency so that employees aren’t worrying or stressing over their attendance and appointment schedules.
The relaxation element can apply to other areas too. For example, some employees who are suffering from mental ill-health may find strict deadlines daunting. Could you offer them additional support to help with this?
Reallocate tasks: let’s use an employee who suffers from anxiety as an example. Part of their role is to give group presentations once a week. Previously, they were fine with this, however, now, just the thought of standing up in front of a group fills them with anxiety. Could you temporarily reallocate this part of their position?
If you do, do this, it’s important to ensure the employee knows the change isn’t permanent or negative. You could even consider giving them additional responsibility – that they’re comfortable with – in replacement.
Extra supervision: it’s important not to go too far and start micro-managing – this can be counter-productive, but extra support and/or supervision can be really reassuring.
To keep on top of things, you could kickstart weekly catch-ups, where you discuss and monitor the employee’s workload, ask how they’re doing, assess how current adjustments are panning out, and see whether or not any new ones need putting in place.
Tactile approach: we’re not suggesting that you’re not already, but try and be more most positive and constructive with your feedback. If an employee is already having a bad day, negative feedback could be a real setback.
Support groups: to break the stigma around mental health and encourage employees to talk to each other, you could instigate a support group. Employees may find it comforting to know they’re not alone, or the only one struggling.
Business-wide support: if you’re worried employees won’t want to open up in front of others, consider reinforcing your message – that mental health conditions are nothing to be ashamed of and that employees are not alone – in alternative ways. This could be via posters, emails or anonymous forums, for example.
Referrals: if you don’t have the provision to support employees in-house, make them aware of external resources – like Remploy, Mind or the NHS, to name just a few.
While it’s important you support your employees, it’s only natural to need support yourself every now and then.
If you need someone to talk to, organisations like Business in the Community, Mindful Employer, Rethink Mental Illness and Remploy are a great source of help for various aspects of mental health.
For advice on how to deal with HR issues that arise when managing employees who have a mental health condition, get in touch with our HR & Employment Law experts on 0345 844 1111 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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