24 September 2019 update
Managing mental health issues in the workplace
Your staff are your greatest asset and their wellbeing has a major impact on the overall success of your practice.
One of the most significant influences on the wellbeing of your staff is their mental health. Fortunately, mental health issues don’t have the stigma they once did and recent initiatives have done a lot to get people thinking about how they can improve their own mental health and help others who may be struggling.
So, what can you do in your own workplace to help a staff member who needs support?
Discuss the situation with the staff member
Talking freely about anxiety and depression is usually the best way to deal with the situation but it can be difficult to know how to raise the subject and have the conversation in a safe way.
Before you start any conversations with the employee, it’s important to be clear in your own mind about what you are concerned about. You also need to think about the best way to have the conversation. Raising it in the middle of a busy day in a public setting with other people milling about is probably not going to be appropriate. Make sure you and the staff member have some free time to talk properly without distractions, and perhaps take the conversation off-site.
To broach the subject, you might want to keep it informal and start by asking simple questions like:
- Is everything okay with you?
- How are things at home?
Be supportive and listen, while acknowledging the person’s feelings. Keeping things focused on what you can do to help in practical terms can be very useful, for example by asking whether they have someone to talk to, or what the workplace can do to ease their workload. Take what they reveal seriously.
Work out what the practice can do to help
Sometimes it can be hard to work out whether an employee’s stress or anxiety is due to issues in their personal life or in their work life.
However, employers are required to provide a healthy and safe workplace under the Health and Safety Act, which includes ensuring the mental health of employees. So, if there’s something in the workplace that is exacerbating the problem, you need to deal with that.
On top of that basic legal requirement, you should also think about what other support the business can offer. One option would be to provide contact details for counselling support or consider changing the staff member’s hours or duties for a short time. You could consider flexible working arrangements or the ability for the employee to have time away from busy areas in the practice. It’s important to remember, though, that any solutions you offer need to be sustainable.
If your employee needs to take time off work, make sure they provide you with medical certification that they are fit to return to work and if necessary, plan with them how the return to work will be managed.
Your employee may feel vulnerable and anxious about how their colleagues will react to their return. In addition, they are entitled to their privacy and their health information should be securely stored and shared only with those who need to know or who the employee has agreed to have informed. It’s important to discuss with the employee who they would like to be told about the situation, how much information they are happy to have shared, and how the return to work will play out week by week.
In very serious cases, your employee may not be able to return to work at all, or at least will not be able to return to their previous role. These are very difficult cases to manage and we recommend speaking to your HR advisor or our MAS HealthyPractice team before taking any action.
For more information about managing mental health issues in the workplace, or for immediate support for staff members with these issues:
Open minds - a guide for managers https://www.mentalhealth.org.nz/assets/Uploads/Guide-for-managers-April-2017.pdf
Contact details for assistance
The Mental Health Foundation https://www.mentalhealth.org.nz/
National Telehealth Service - Need to talk? Free call 0800 1737 1737 or text 1737 anytime for support from a trained counsellor, https://www.1737.org.nz/
Depression Helpline: 0800 111 757 - 8am to midnight
Lifeline: 0800 543 354 - 24-hour telephone counselling service
Suicide Crisis Helpline: 0508 828 865 (includes when concerned about the wellbeing of someone else)
Healthline: 0800 611 116
Samaritans: 0800 726 666
Youthline: 0800 376 633, free text 234 or email firstname.lastname@example.org
If it is an emergency and you feel like you or someone else is at risk, call 111.
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