Managing Mental Ill Health in the Workplace
The following professional, but not legal, advice about mental ill health in the workplace is provided for your consideration:
1. What is mental health and what is mental ill health?
Mental health is a sense of wellbeing, confidence and self-esteem. It enables us to fully enjoy and appreciate other people, day-to-day life and our environment.
Mental ill health is characterised by a significant disturbance of thought, mood, perception or memory. A mental illness can be mild or severe, temporary or prolonged. Most mental illnesses can be treated.
2. What are my legal responsibilities as a Manager?
An employer / manager has three basic legal responsibilities when managing mental ill health in the workplace to:
- Not discriminate against a team member because of mental illness;
- Protect the privacy and confidentiality of the team member;
- Provide reasonable workplace adjustments to support team members with mental illness.
3. What are the legal responsibilities of an employee / team member?
There is no legal obligation for an employee to disclose a mental illness unless it is likely to put their safety, or that of their colleagues or workplace at risk.
4. What are some organisational risk factors that may impact mental health?
- Poor communication
- Role ambiguity or conflict
- Job security
- Bullying, harassment or discrimination
- Conflict demands of work and home
5. What are the signs that a team member may be experiencing mental ill health?
It is important to note that it is not your role to diagnose or treat mental health conditions. Your role is to note persistent changes to the mood, behaviour, physical appearance and performance of the team member.
Some possible signs that a team member may be experiencing mental ill health include (but are not limited to):
- Sustained changes to physical functioning and/or appearance, such as pain, effects of fatigue, decline in personal grooming.
- Sustained changes to cognitive processes, such as memory, concentration, decision-making, thought formation, organisation and planning.
- Sustained changes to social interaction, such as lack of cooperation or isolation.
- Sustained changes to emotional functioning, such as displays of anger or sadness.
- Frequent absences from work or significantly reduced engagement in work.
- Acting out of character and/or inappropriate behaviour.
- Persistent swings in behaviour, energy levels and mood.
6. What to do if you feel a team member is experiencing mental ill health?
It is best practice to demonstrate that you have considered the possibility of mental ill health in all performance-related matters. It is important to understand that there is often a link between mental ill health and performance concerns. For example, if your team member is experiencing sleep disturbances, this could lead to lateness, concentration deficits and memory deficits, all of which impact on their performance in their role.
As a manager you need to:
- Perform your due diligence activities before you approach the team member.
- Make it safe for the team member to disclose about anything that is impacting on them or their performance.
- Address your concerns with the worker in a sensitive and confidential manner.
- Ask the team member if there is anything they can identify that may be impacting on them and/or their performance.
- Offer organisational support by negotiating reasonable adjustment strategies with the team member as required.
- Encourage the team member to seek external support as required (e.g. EAP Service, GP).
- Implement, monitor and adjust the reasonable adjustment strategies in consultation with the team member.
If the team member persists with the behaviour or performance level, despite the reasonable adjustment(s) being made, you may commence the formal performance management process.
7. Who can I advise or inform of the team members mental ill health condition?
An employer is only able to breach a team members confidentiality if they have a legitimate reason to believe that there is a serious and imminent threat to the health, safety or property of any other persons in the workplace, general public or if it is required by law.
It is important not to breach an employee’s privacy by telling team members about the individual’s mental illness unless they have agreed that you can do so. Even when permission has been given, the purpose of disclosing a team members mental illness should be carefully considered.
8. Can I performance manage an employee with a mental illness?
Yes, if they cannot meet the inherent requirements of the job even when a reasonable adjustment has been made to accommodate their needs and due consideration has been given to any other factors that could impact on their ability to perform their job.