Responsibilities at work may not always be the sole cause for poor metal health, but for some people, workload and stress can be a significant contributor. In Australia employers have a duty of care to ensure that employees are safe at work, both physically and psychologically, and can confidently perform their job without any adverse affects. So what happens when you suspect an employee is struggling mentally, and how do you approach it? Here are some steps to follow:
1. Arrange a confidential meeting
Ensure that you arrange a confidential meeting, in an environment away from prying eyes where the person can feel comfortable. Be professional when scheduling so that you don’t further contribute to stress or anxiety.
2. Be familiar with your workplace mental health resources
Be well versed in any company policies around mental health and resources available such as Employee Assistance Programs. Have hand-outs printed and sealed in a folder for the employee to take with them.
3. Adopt an honest, upfront and caring approach
Start off by providing encouragement and pointing out the employees strengths and contributions that they bring to the business – it is important that they feel valued. Consider the conversation to be somewhat of a performance review where the positives are discussed first followed by concerns. Be clear in stating why you are concerned.
Be aware that your employee may not realise the impact their mental state is having on their work, feel as though their personal issues are not your concern, or alternatively they may think that everything is just fine. Be prepared to be dismissed. But if your employee is willing to open up, be supportive.
Consider asking open ended questions where the employee is able to steer the conversation in a direction they are comfortable. Ensure that you listen openly and provide encouragement. Don’t push for information which is outside of the scope of work related issues – it is not your business.
It is important that you focus on solutions, not problems, and how you can help the employee in a business sense – remember that you’re not in their shoes, even if you think you have been before. Ensure that you document everything being said and consider ways of temporarily altering their job role and responsibilities to reduce pressure and workload. Offer your collected mental health resources and details about what’s included in the pack.
5. Schedule a follow-up meeting
Don’t forget that you have a duty of care to ensure your employees are happy at work. Once the employee has had some time to digest the conversation, potentially seek help and you’ve altered their work responsibilities, check back in. If the employee’s mental state has not improved, or gotten worse, consider offering them the support of an Employee Assistance Program. Again consider their workload and responsibilities, and refer them to free phone and online resources, as well as community service providers such as doctors, psychologists and counsellors. And once again, after some time, repeat the process.
Talking to employees about mental health may seem a daunting process, but it’s the first step in taking positive strides to ensuring happy, healthy and efficient employees. And when you make mental health and wellbeing a priority in your workplace, your employees will thank you for it.
For further reading and free mental health resources, see:
Black Dog Institute: Workplace Mental Health Toolkit
Beyond Blue: Workplace Mental Health
Lifeline – Phone: 13 11 14
Beyond Blue – Phone: 1300 22 4636