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How to Manage an Employee with a Mental Health Issue

Nearly 45 million adults in the United States suffered from a mental health issue in 2016. This represents about one in five adults, according to the latest data from the National Institute of Mental Health. However, less than half (19.1 million) received mental health treatment in the same year, suggesting that some of those who are struggling with an issue are receiving the help that they need, but many more could benefit from treatment.

Many need resources for treatment. When asked about employer-provided resources for mental health needs, 48 percent of respondents reported that their employer does not offer adequate resources to address their mental health needs, according to a 2017 survey by the American Psychological Association.

Mental health is also a tough discussion for many employees and employers to have because there is still a perceived stigma around having a mental illness. Mental illnesses need to be treated exactly like a physical illness. Just because you can’t see it as a physical issue, doesn’t mean it isn’t real.

Each month, 18 percent of workers report having a mental health condition, making it one of the most common illnesses covered by the Americans with Disabilities Act, according to the ADA National Network.

With one in five employees working with a mental health issue, it is a subject your business will have to manage. Working with employees to manage mental health matters is an essential talent management strategy that will allow you to support your employees while protecting their health and the health of your business.

There are steps that you can take to support your worker and protect your business.

Recognize the Signs
One of the first steps to coping with mental health issues in the workplace starts with training your managers or HR representatives to recognize the tell-tale signs that an employee may need help. These signs include:

  • Uncharacteristic behavior
  • Reductions in productivity
  • Chronic tardiness or inability to stick to deadlines
  • Irritability/temper flares
  • Blaming others for errors/issues in the workplace
  • Being hostile to co-workers or letting previous strong working relationships sour
  • Lack of focus/ability to concentrate on tasks
  • Poor eating habits

Craft a Response
In the event that an employee discloses that he or she is suffering from a mental health issue, managers should be trained to respond. The first step is to thank the employee for disclosing their concerns – coming forward about such a sensitive issue is always difficult, so showing appreciation for their honesty and compassion for their illness are good ways to establish trust and keep the communication channels open as the employee works through this issue.

Next, the manager should discuss how the employee’s concerns may impact their ability to perform their job function and have a frank conversation about any and all accommodations that can be made during this time. This aspect of the manager’s response is particularly important if the employee works in a role where their safety is at risk.

In addition, the manager should voice their support for the worker to seek medical treatment. If an Employee Assistance Program is available, the professionals at these programs are valuable resources for both the employee and the employer.

The manager should also remember that under health privacy laws (HIPPA), they cannot openly share medical information about employees, but can advise the employee to share relevant information with the appropriate staff members, such as human resources.

Put it on Paper
We cannot stress enough that businesses need to have a written policy that addresses the issue of mental health in the workplace, much like a section for the management of any other medical condition. The employee handbook should clearly state what services are available to employees suffering from a mental health issue and how to access them, as well as what can be done in the workplace to support them during this time. The handbook should also touch on any relevant leave policies for this issue and any other pertinent information that can guide the employee.

Prevention is Key
There are steps that you can take as a company to support the mental health of your employees. This includes creating a workplace where employees feel supported and thus comfortable coming to managers, where workers feel valued and respected in their roles, and where they are able to find a balance in their personal and professional lives.

You can further expand the reach of these efforts by offering stress reduction programs, incorporating stress-relieving activities into wellness incentive programs, and making sure that the culture of your company promotes mental wellness.

 

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