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A Birthday cake and Mental Health, what could possible go wrong?

In our workplace, there seems to be a birthday celebration every couple of weeks!

Birthdays are a day to give a little happiness to your team members and indulge in some delicious cake and a birthday sing-along. Though, not everyone wants to announce their day or have a spotlight on them. For some, the thought of being the centre of attention may be overwhelming and distressing and they may prefer not to celebrate it and that can be hard for the people around them to understand.

This is where employers need to respect an employee’s emotional and mental health needs. Not every birthday needs to be celebrated even if it’s an excuse to have cake.

Take the USA worker Kevin who asked his employer not to have a workplace birthday party for him as he suffers from anxiety and panic attacks.

Unfortunately the employer went against the employee’s wish, albeit with good intentions, and held a birthday celebration for him. This caused Kevin to have a panic attack and suffer a severe mental health reaction and leave the workplace.

To make matters worse, the employer counselled Kevin on his return and his employment subsequently ended. This then resulted in a court case where the business was ordered to pay out over $600,000 in damages to the employee and in the end it was all over a birthday party that wasn’t wanted.

The outtakes from this story are:

  • Listen to your employee’s requests around mental health. If you are aware of an employee suffering from mental health issues, don’t make assumptions – talk to them about what they are and aren’t comfortable with.
  • When managing mental health in the workplace it is important to get the balance right to ensure all of the workforce are supported and their personal requests or needs acknowledged and considered. This creates a mentally healthy workplace.
  • When a negative experience arises regardless of who caused it, provide support to the employee through an Employee Assistance Program, offer time to hear out their concerns, and be open to making changes to create a better support environment.

Mental health in the workplace can be a challenge. Equip your managers with the right support programs to ease the stress on how to manage mental health issues within their teams.

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