Last month I wrote about the importance of having wellbeing programmes in place, and how it can help employees feel engaged, increase productivity
and reduce absence. Linked to that is the importance of managing mental health issues
that may arise, including implementing ways to help reduce the chances of mental
health (MH) problems occurring.
Managers have a crucial role in managing MH. A negative, unorganised and inconsistent manager may have a
detrimental effect on people’s mental health, whereas a supportive manager with
strong leadership can help your teams feel valued and recognised.
It is important to remember that just because
someone has a MH illness does not mean they cannot perform as well as their
colleagues. Often, people with MH conditions are high performers and achievers.
Because the manager’s role in supporting good
mental health in the workplace is so crucial, it’s important to provide
excellent training and develop a Mental Health Policy for managers to refer to.
Guidance should state that:
- Managers are not expected to diagnose but should seek advice from Human Resources (HR) or Occupational Health (OH) if they have any concerns about an employee.
- Approach all aspects of a person’s MH as you would for any other kind of health-related problem, including sickness absence, assessing fitness for work using specialist advice, considering workplace adjustments, and managing performance.
Prevention, Intervention and Support
Provide your managers with the necessary resources to help
prevent employees develop work-related stress and to support employees with MH
conditions. Each level of intervention includes:
- Creating a workplace environment that is
conducive to good MH, including training line managers in the soft skills
needed to encourage disclosure of any MH problems
design – creating work that is satisfying and not excessively pressurised
of risk factors, including bullying and harassment
good working relationships.
- Providing support to employees at an early stage
of any MH problems, such as stress management and resilience training
- Help line managers to spot when a team member
may be struggling with stress or any kind of distress.
- Support your managers in identifying and supporting
employees with severe mental ill health by providing mental health first-aid
training, guidance on using the management support part of your Employee
Assistance Programme (EAP), and training in making effective referrals to OH or
other medical specialists
- Employees with more serious long-term illnesses
will often need a different management approach, particularly where the
condition includes relapses and remission periods. Most employees with enduring
mental ill health will generally function well when given support, which also
helps them to quickly divulge when they identify the early warning signs that
they are not well. That vital workplace support helps to empower them to manage
their situation at work.
- Regularly promote the support available through
your EAP or any external programme, especially therapies for common MH
problems, such as Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT)
- When referring employees for counselling or CBT,
always ensure that they are equipped to handle employees with MH issues
- CBT is recognised as being effective in helping
people back to work following MH problems as work-focused goals and strategies
can be set, which employees often find empowering. CBT is typically delivered
in six to eight sessions of counselling, either face to face or via online e-therapy
Building employee resilience makes good business sense – resilient
employees are better able to maintain their performance at work, even under
pressure. However, keep in mind that many instances of stress and distress are
symptomatic of wider problems, which would need investigating. Resilience
training would not correct those problems.
Training individuals and teams to
become more resilient is particularly important where change has the potential
to undermine confidence and morale. Resilience training can also help employees
- Be more flexible about organisational change
- Adopt a “can-do” attitude and be more
optimistic about their future at work
- Remain calm under pressure and feel less anxious
about work and home life.
Disclosure About a Mental Health condition
Often, people are reluctant to
disclose that they have a MH condition. Mental ill health is a sensitive issue,
but most employees welcome an open and honest approach. Ensure your managers have
regular catch-up sessions with their teams. Use simple, non-judgmental questions
– this helps employees to talk openly and helps managers to spot signs of
trouble early. Building a good rapport makes it easier for employees to
disclose a MH problem.
Timely Referrals to Occupational Health
Referrals to OH may be triggered
under various circumstances, including changes in behaviour or sickness absence
that may be related to an underlying MH problem, or if the employee’s MH problem
is work related. Sometimes, a situation at work may affect an employee’s MH,
for example difficult relationships with colleagues.
Where an employee discloses a MH
problem, encourage them to consult their GP first, and inform them of support
available through your EAP or any other service.
Early referral to appropriate
medical and/or specialist services help to nip things in the bud and prevent sickness
absence. Therefore, an effective process should include:
- Making referrals as soon as there is a concern
about an employee
- Provide OH with background information, including
the employee’s job role, any workplace adjustments in place or attempted, whether
a disciplinary or performance management process is under way, and whether
there are any relationship problems with colleagues
- Asking the OH team relevant questions, e.g. about
the individual’s fitness to carry out particular tasks, or the prognosis
for a return to work (if the employee is absent)
- Discuss the advice received from OH with the
employee as a precursor to building an action plan to help them remain in
or return to work.
Encourage your managers to seek
expert advice if they feel unsure, or if it is a particularly complex case. Advice
could come from OH, HR, or external organisations such as mental health
Feedback following a referral usually
provides recommendations and advice about whether the health problem is likely
to have an impact on the employee’s fitness to carry out his or her role. If
the employee is absent from work, it should also give some idea about how long
the absence is likely to last.
All parties must ensure that
personal data, including information about individuals’ health, is handled in
accordance with your GDPR policy. For instance, if OH needs to liaise with
employees’ medical practitioners. You need a consistent approach for when a
medical report is requested, who will request it, and how.
Always use a case management approach when supporting employees with MH
problems to return to, or stay in, work. This approach involves key functions –
such as line managers, HR and OH – monitoring the employee’s situation and
requirements, and liaising with one another about appropriate actions. Tailor your
approach to the employee, as everyone’s mental ill health and their coping
mechanisms are unique. Each case should be handled by a consistent group of
people, including a single case manager to coordinate all actions.
Line managers need training to
spot the common signs of mental ill health and to identify employees who are
struggling. Training should cover how pressure can become negative stress and
other work-related problems, such as poor performance. It should guide managers
on how and when to seek specialist help if they cannot deal with, or do not feel
comfortable, in managing the issue.
Training line managers should
- Greater confidence in approaching employees to offer early support at work
- More effective and timely referrals to OH or other specialist services
- More effective management support for absent individuals
- Less stigma about mental ill health at work
- A reduction in absence because of an increased ability to keep employees well at work.
The following areas should be
covered in your training provision:
- Being Aware of Potential Triggers, including recognising MH problems. Managers should be alert to work-related factors that can adversely affect employees (see Environmental risk factors).
- Identifying Mental Ill Health. Line managers who know their staff and regularly hold catch-ups are well placed to spot any signs of stress or mental ill health at an early stage. Often, the key is a change in typical behaviour. Symptoms vary, as everyone’s mental ill health is different, but potential indicators are provided in the table below. However, these signs don’t automatically mean that the employee has a MH problem – it could be a sign of another health issue or something else entirely. Training should stress that managers should never make assumptions, and to talk to employees directly.
- Mental Health First-Aid Training. Designed to help managers successfully intervene when a crisis situation at work arises, such as when an individual may be a danger to themselves or others. These courses also cover dealing with panic attacks, acute stress reactions and conditions such as schizophrenia.
- Absence Management and Referrals. Training managers to hold difficult or sensitive conversations with employees will help them to manage absence and specialist referrals. This training should focus on making such discussions open and positive, so that both parties can explore issues freely. The training should emphasise that you do not expect managers to act as a doctor, but to understand when to involve HR or OH professionals.
- Return to Work. Managers need to understand the importance of keeping in contact with absent employees experiencing a MH problem, the value of a well-designed action plan for return to work, the legal and practical issues around adjustments at work, and the benefits of a case management approach to rehabilitation.
- Supporting Day-to-Day Wellbeing. Managers must be equipped with the skills to support the wellbeing of employees daily, and particularly during periods of significant organisational change. Managers need the tools to break unwelcome news sensitively and prepare for the possible psychological impact on employees. Develop regular training to boost management competencies to help reduce psychological harm at work, for example managing emotions, communicating on work issues and managing difficult situations.
June’s blog will focus on managing sickness absence and return to work
for employees with mental health illnesses. Meanwhile, if you need help in
managing mental health in your organisation, or indeed any other staff
issues, do call me on 0118 940 3032
or click here to email me.
The source of this blog is XpertHR.