Frequently Asked Questions about Managing Mental Ill-Health in the Workplace, Part Two

Last week in Part One, we covered questions relating to the definition, responsibilities and obligations, risk factors and possible indicators of mental ill-health in work colleagues. In Part Two of this Three Part Series, iHR answers some more commonly asked questions about managing mental ill-health in the workplace.


1. What should I do if I have observed persistent changes to a team members’ mood, behaviour, physical appearance or performance?

You must 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 of their performance in their role.

As with all workers you may have concerns about, 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.


2. Who can I advise or inform of the employees’ mental ill health condition?

An employer is only able to breach an employee’s 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.

Information can be shared with other staff members as long as they have a legitimate reason to know e.g. Director and/or HR department.

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 an employee’s mental illness should be carefully considered.


3. What types of reasonable adjustment strategies are there to assist an employee experiencing a mental health condition?

Workplace adjustment is a change made to enable people with a disability to participate in the workforce without compromising the health and safety of the employee, or the productivity of the employer organisation. Some of the more common adjustments include:

• Variable start and finish times and days worked, provided core business hours are worked and the essential business needs are achieved.
• Ability to work part-time.
• Discretionary leave where additional sick leave provisions are made available to the worker.
• Offering the worker a variety of tasks.
• Offering a work area in a quieter location.
• Changing or sharing responsibilities or tasks, such as providing administrative duties rather than telephone or face-to-face contact with customers.

It is important to remember that the team member may already have some strategies that they use successfully. Never assume you know what strategy will be best for the person.


4. What are the key factors I need to consider when having a sensitive and confidential conversation with my team member?

Key preparation considerations include:
• Documented observations.
• Documented performance concerns.
• Identification of organisational support resources and policy requirements.
• Your approach (e.g. formal or informal conversation).

Key initiation considerations include:
• Approach your team member in private.
• Interact with your team member as you always do.
• Ask them to meet with you and tell them the purpose of the meeting.
• Do not leave too long between your initial approach and the meeting as the person may become anxious about what could happen.

Key conduct considerations include:
• Maintain the supportive environment you have created.
• Maintain appropriate language and body language.
• Pace the conversation – keep it calm and let the person set the pace.
• Use open-ended questions.
• Listen attentively.
• Do not jump to conclusions or form judgements.

Key post-conversation considerations include:
• Keep the communication lines open.
• Monitor and adjust the reasonable adjustments as needed.
• Monitor the impact of the reasonable adjustments on the rest of the team.
• Maintain self-care strategies.


5. Is it possible to 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.

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