My employee has ill mental health; what do I do?

Most managers have had to deal with the ill health of staff members on at least one occasion in their career, but what about mental ill-health? Does it need to be dealt with differently?

With the rise in ill mental health in employees in recent years, many managers can be fearful of dealing with the subject, in fear of getting it wrong. Back in May in our blog for Mental Health Day, we concluded that although progress has been made in de-stigmatising ill mental health, the stigma to some extent still does exist.

Your Role As A Manager When It Comes to Ill Mental Health in Employees

One of your most important roles as a manager is ensuring the wellbeing of your employees. Sometimes people experiencing mental ill-health will give you signs, some however won’t, and so it is essential that you are regularly checking in with your staff and asking them how they are. (And listening!). By doing this regularly, you are building a culture of your employees feeling confident to speak up earlier.

A crucial element of your role is creating a culture and environment where staff feel they can be honest about how they are feeling. If your team members think they can come to you to talk about anything that might be bothering them, rather than being fearful of the repercussions they might incur by speaking out, then managers can take proactive and affirmative action much sooner.

Talking To Your Team Member

Many managers may feel unsure of how to talk to a team member with ill mental health. It can be tempting to try and avoid the matter and hope that it resolves itself.

As a manager, it is your responsibility to take the lead and schedule a discussion with your team member as soon as you feel there could be problems. Many employees may feel they cannot bring this up themselves. Communication is key in situations like this and by identifying any problems and putting support in place early, you may be able to avoid your team member having to take time off.

At whatever stage you are talking to your employee, the conversation should always be approached positive and sensitive. The discussion should be private, informal and relaxed where possible. Many managers make the mistake of making this initial conversation too formal or escalate the problem unnecessarily.

During the conversation, ask simple, open questions, allow them time to talk and be open-minded. Remember, your employee is likely to feel even more embarrassed and uncomfortable than you are!

The aim of the conversation should be to:

  • Establish if there is a problem
  • Reassure your employees that your objective is to support them
  • Decide on the next steps and be able to offer support if required

If your employee does not want to talk to you, you should continue to monitor the situation. If you still feel that there is cause for concern, you may wish to seek the advice of an H.R. professional.

What Support Can I Offer?

If you establish from your initial conversation that there is a problem, there are various things that you can do to support your employee.  Many options don’t need to have substantial cost implications and can be as simple as a change in attitude or expectations.

Identify if your employee is already receiving any professional support. If they are not, you could encourage them to make an appointment with their G.P. or signpost them to local support groups or national helplines such as Mind or Rethink.

If they are having problems at work as a result of ill mental health, identify what will support them in continuing to attend work and reduce the pressures they are experiencing. Some ideas of adjustments could be:

  • Allowing more breaks
  • Reviewing their workload and re-assigning some tasks
  • Assign a mentor or buddy to support them
  • Allow some working from home

Work with your employee to develop a well-being action plan to manage their mental health proactively. This could include identifying any triggers, what they need from you, and what positive steps you can both take.

My Employee Has Gone Off Sick, What Now?

Sometimes your employees will need time off work to deal with their ill mental health and to make a recovery. The way you manage this period of sickness is critical not only to how quickly your employee will return to work but also in the example you are setting a message you are sending out to your other employees.

Remember, staff who are supported by their employer are more likely to be able to stay in work or more quickly return to work after a period of absence.

While your employee is off sick, you should:

  • Agree when and how frequently your employee wants to be contacted
  • Ask them how they would prefer to be contacted (phone, email, face-to-face)
  • Encourage their friends and work colleagues to stay in touch and visit them (with their consent).
  • Remain positive and supportive
  • Not pressure your employee to return to work
  • Agree a phased return to work
  • Speak to occupational health or an H.R. professional for further support

Where do I stand legally if any employee has ill mental health?

Whether or not your employee’s mental ill-health is classed as a disability, you should do your utmost to support them as much as you can. However, sometimes, you need to know where you stand legally if you are not able to help your employee in returning to work.

In 2010 mental ill-health and discrimination were included in the Equality Act of 2010 and as such means that employers need to make sure they are providing reasonable adjustments to those suffering from mental illness within their organisation.

Prevention is better than cure

Mental health illness needs to be treated in exactly the same way as any other illness.  You should have a detailed policy in place, outlining your processes. As mentioned in the blog, our advice is to ensure you start at the very beginning and that you are creating the right culture in your business – one of openness and communication surrounding mental health in the workplace.

If these things are in place, it is much easier for you as an employer to support your employees in gaining the support they need and making a full recovery and return to work.

If you would like support in making positive changes to your business with regards to the culture of mental health, or if you have an employee that you would like practical support and guidance in supporting, please do not hesitate to get in touch. At Altum HR we are passionate about helping employers and raising the level of knowledge and education around this subject for both employers and their employees.

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