Managing staff that present to work with a mental health problem or illness is becoming more  prevalent.  The stigma once associated with mental health is being broken down thanks to the great work of numerous charitable organisations within Australia who have raised the profile of mental health and made it a mainstream issue that needs to be proactively addressed within society.

People are now more comfortable discussing their mental health problem or illness with family and friends in order that it may be managed so as to allow the individual to lead a full and productive life.  Importantly, this includes conversations within the workplace as well.

Over the past few years we have noticed a definite trend in our clients becoming more actively engaged to assist staff who have presented to work with either a mental health problem or illness.  There is now a realisation people suffering from mental health related issues is prevalent and will impact most organisations in some way.  Moreover, employers are starting to understand that proactive engagement with staff that identify themselves as suffering from a mental health problem or illness can make a significant difference in the productivity and effectiveness of the impacted staff member, which in turn leads to better outcomes for the organisation.

While each instance needs to be managed on a ‘case by case’ basis we recommend to our clients the following key steps in effectively managing staff that present in the workplace with a mental health issue:

1.  Understanding.  Employers need to have a basic understanding of mental health related issues.  Specifically, just because a staff member may be experiencing a mental health issue, it does not necessarily mean that it is long term or permanent issue or that it will significantly impact the operational effectiveness of the organisation.  Importantly, a mental health problem or illness does not mean that an impacted person can not continue to be a productive member of the workforce.  A mental health problem is a problem that affects the way a person feels, thinks, behaves and interacts with other people.  Mental health problems are quite common and can be temporary in nature due to the stressors of life.  Left untreated mental health problems may develop into mental illness that can have more severe impacts requiring intervention from suitably qualified practitioners.

2.  Identification.  Once an employer becomes aware of a mental health problem or illness being experienced by a staff member, the most important step to take is to proactively consult with the impacted person in a sensitive and confidential manner. Employees within an organisation should not feel that a mental health issue be kept secret and should be encouraged to raise the issue if it is starting to have a detrimental impact on their work without fear of reprisal. Employees should have the confidence to raise these sorts of issues in order that they may be managed to the mutual satisfaction of both parties.

3.  Consultation.  Consultation with an impacted employee is vital to ensuring that the right management plan is put in place to allow the impacted person the ability to both deal with their mental health issue and continue to be a productive contributor at work.  The key is for the Employer to listen and understand exactly what difficulties the impacted person is experiencing before any plan is developed.  Importantly, a ‘one size fits all’ approach to the issue needs to be avoided and the initial conversations should be ‘two-way’ in nature so the employer has all the information that is required to develop an effective management plan.  Importantly, if at any point the employer has concerns for the immediate safety and wellbeing of the impacted person, steps should be taken straight away to protect the safety of the impacted person or any other individuals.

4.  Management.  Once there is a full understanding of the mental health issue, we encourage the development of a management plan in order that the impacted employee can be as productive as possible whilst also having the ability to seek treatment/support (as necessary) to deal with their mental health issue.  Once again this does not mean that an impacted person can not work, it may just mean that clever changes are put in place to balance the needs of both parties.  Once developed the employer should then engage in consultation (once again) with the impacted person in order that the plan can be adjusted and  implemented as appropriate.

5.  Review.  As stated earlier, mental health issues can be quite temporary in nature and do not necessarily mean that permanent changes to a impacted persons accountabilities need to be made at work.  As such, any plan that is implemented must be monitored and reviewed on a regular basis.  The plan can then be tweaked over time or even finalised dependent on the circumstances.

At Human Outsource we have developed a comprehensive procedure to enable businesses to manage mental health issues in the workplace.  We have also just released our very own Employee Assistance Program that provides a high quality support service to employees.  Unlike other providers who either use counsellors or inexperienced psychologists we only use highly experienced clinical psychologists.  We also do this at an affordable price where you only pay for what you need.  Call us anytime on 1300 723 911 or for more information visit