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Information of interest to our Clients and for the industry


What to do if an employee says ‘no’ this R U OK? Day

R U OK? Day is a powerful mental health awareness initiative which encourages and empowers people to have conversations with those who may be struggling. What really bothers me about it however is that it shouldn’t be restricted to just one day. We should be checking in with those around us regularly; our family, friends and co-workers, and making sure that if they need someone to talk with, there’s always an ear and friendly encouragement available.

So lesson 1… don’t wait until a special day on the calendar to ask if someone’s okay.

But it’s often not the easiest thing to do, right? What is the best way to ask if someone is okay?

Lesson 2… just do it. There’s no time to waste if you suspect that someone is struggling with their mental health. So tread sensitively, and perhaps take them to a quiet place to ask, but tell them that you’ve noticed that they’re not themselves lately, and check in with them about their current mental state.

And most importantly, how can you help if they respond with ‘no’. Lesson 3 gives you some pointers to guide you through the process:

  1. Listen – don’t underestimate the power of listening. Sometimes people need to hear their issues out loud to make sense of them, and the support of someone who is actively listening and paying attention can help more than you or they realise. Listen without interrupting and show compassion as they talk.

 

  1. Ask questions – try to ask open ended questions to encourage the person to continue voicing their concerns.

 

  1. Show empathy – try to see things from their point of view and validate their concerns by showing empathy and using phrases like, ‘it’s understandable to feel the way you do considering all that you’re going through’.

 

  1. Don’t try to fix their problem – it’s not up to you to find a solution. You may be able to provide some helpful suggestions but you certainly don’t have to. And don’t feel helpless if you can’t, as often it’s not advice they’re after, but rather someone to listen and help them feel supported.

 

  1. Ask if they need urgent help – it’s hard to know how deeply a person is suffering or if they’re thinking about self-harm or even suicide. The best thing to do is just to ask and listen to their response without judgement. If they respond with ‘yes’, refer them to available support and helplines, and give them a call yourself to gain some specific advice relevant to the situation.
  1. Encourage them to seek professional help – encouragement to seek help is all that you can offer at this point, only the individual can act on the decision to seek professional help. You can direct them to their GP, mental health professional or local support group.

 

  1. Follow up – make sure you check in again and reiterate that you care and that you’re available to talk should they need to.

Asking R U OK? is a small gesture but can be significant to a person’s mental health whether you suspect they’re struggling or not. Check in every now and again, be open and supportive if they’re not okay and offer an ear or helpful resources if you can.

Here are some online tools which may assist anyone looking to improve their mental health:

Beyond Blue – educational resources

Head to Health – self-help programs

This Way Up – online depression test

Centre for Clinical Interventions – self-help workbooks

Employee Assistance Program Support

Case Study: When altering your reactions can affect RTW outcomes

At Work Options we see many situations where a worker submits a claim for an injury at work, and doesn’t always have the experience they expect. In this case study, we look at a landscape labourer who was suffering from unknown mental health issues, and an employer who could have acted differently to avoid a negative and costly experience for both the employer and worker.

Case Study:

Ron* was a 38 year old labourer working for a landscaping business in New South Wales when he tripped on-site and fractured his right elbow, resulting in a worker’s compensation claim. Due to the nature of his work and the injury sustained, Ron was deemed ‘unfit’ for work and took temporary leave whilst he recovered. Whilst on leave, the employer made no attempts to communicate with Ron, until 6 weeks post-injury and post-surgery, when Ron was given the capacity to return to work in alternate duties. At that time the employer did not engage in discussion with Ron, but rather sent him a pre-drafted return to work plan outlining office-based duties.

Ron became frustrated with the lack of communication and spoke aggressively to colleagues who were contacting him via phone, the insurance agency and the Workplace Rehabilitation Consultant. The employer responded to Ron’s frustration by telling him to ‘pull himself together and understand that they were trying to support him’.

After a number of weeks of non-communication between Ron and the employer, Ron made a suicide attempt. Following this, Ron spent extended periods of time at home, not engaging in normal self-care or hygiene practices, which further isolated him from any support outside of his family. It was then discovered through Ron’s wife that there was an extensive history of mental health in his family.

Over the next several months, Ron rejected any communication attempts from the employer and insurance company, made three additional suicide attempts and was admitted to two impatient units for a combined total of 15 weeks. The employer became frustrated with Ron’s aggressive behaviour, considering it inappropriate, and elected to no longer attempt to engage with him.

After two years Ron had still not returned to work and his mental health did not improve during this time.

Recommendations:

  1. Communication is key! As soon as an employee is injured at work, it is important that the employer or a colleague checks on them regularly to ensure that they feel supported and are open to the recovery process. In this case, if communication lines were open, it would have been easier for the employer to determine that Ron was suffering from a mental health condition, which could have been managed and potentially prevented from escalating to suicide attempts.

Open communication may seem like a simple step however is often not done, particularly when mental health is concerned, for fear of making it worse for the individual.

 

  1. It is important to understand that, even when introducing positive changes, people experiencing low mental health will often react emotionally and can feel increased stress with change. This is likely how Ron felt when he received a return to work plan outlining alternate duties, without first being notified. By consulting Ron initially, he would have felt as though he had some input on the plan itself, and felt compassion from his employer.

This logic also applied when a person is still working within the workplace – businesses have a legal obligation to make reasonable adjustments to the workplace environment when a worker has disclosed low mental health, and that person needs to be a part of that discussion.

 

  1. Using language such as “we will work through it together” or “we are here to support you” shows empathy for the injured workers situation and allows them to feel valued. In this case, using language like “pull yourself together”, gave the opposite effect and caused Ron to stop communication altogether. This behaviour known as ‘avolition’ or ‘demotivation’ is typical for people experiencing low mental health, and is a sign that they often need more support to help them during these periods. It is important that if things have escalated to this point, professional advice should be sought. Suicide is fundamentally a coping strategy, a sign that a person doesn’t have a better way of coping or needs more communication around their mental health experience, and should be done professionally.

 

  1. Often people with low mental health such as Ron don’t understand why things happen unless it is explained to them; again, communication is key. Despite non-communication from Ron over the next several months as well as additional suicide attempts, although his aggressive behaviour was in fact unacceptable, reasonable attempts need to be made to explain why the employer’s communication will cease.

Although Ron’s reactions to his alternate duties were considered aggressive and unreasonable, his actions are realistic for someone suffering with a mental health condition. If your seeing signs similar to this case in your workplace, ensure that you initiate engagement, provide communication and support, and show compassion. Follow these steps, suggest and seek professional support if required, and preserve employee performance at work.

 

 

An Employee Assistance Program Story

Sarah* was into her third year working for a major Australian news publisher, was head of a small team and caught in the middle of a company-wide restructure that bought with it much uncertainty.

“There was a lot of movement happening within the company which seemed to take forever for any actual changes to be made… people were getting fed up with the lack of communication from management, worried about their job security and a lot of people ended up finding new jobs elsewhere. And they weren’t being replaced fast enough or at all so the workload was massively piling up”.

With an ever-increasing workload, a team to support and a system database crash adding to an already stressful working environment, a relationship breakdown with her boyfriend was enough to push Sarah to breaking point.

“I was burnt out. I really honestly just didn’t care anymore… as soon as I cleared my plate of one thing, another issue would come up”.

Sarah had seen the Employee Assistance Program posters around the office, and vaguely recalled the email come through advising employees of the new initiative, and decided it was time to take notice. And rightfully so.

“I called the number and was offered help straight away. They asked if I’d like a one-on-one or phone session and I took the phone option. I think I was entitled to around eight sessions which my employer paid for. I only had three though… after three I had my head in a good enough space to get myself back on track. And it was good to know I had other sessions available if I needed them later on”.

Sarah was provided with confidential counselling which offered coping strategies to deal with her work-induced stress, and offered suggestions on how to best manage work-life balance and deal with her break-up.


“The lady running the EAP gave me a bunch of coping strategies to deal with the stress at work and the reassurance that it was only temporary while the re-structure was taking place. She also helped me deal with my relationship breakdown and gave me a bit of confidence that it was okay to take time for myself”.

And Sarah credits the Employee Assistance Program for providing the support she needed at the time, in both her work and personal life.

“I am really glad that I did the EAP because I’m not sure what I would have done otherwise. Probably quit my job and have even more stress to deal with. And now I am focused again, doing well at my job and am emotionally available to me team”.

*Sarah, 26, New South Wales

For information on how an EAP can help your employees and business, see Employee Assistance Programs.