According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics’ research from 2007, one in five Australian adults will experience a mental illness in any given year. With common conditions such as depression and anxiety becoming more prevalent in the workplace, businesses are being urged to consider how they manage mental health issues amongst their employees.
Besides adhering to the legal requirements on employers, addressing these issues can help businesses increase productivity and reduce staff absenteeism. It helps to create a workplace in which employees affected by such conditions feel comfortable and reduces the risk of conflict and confrontation.
There are a number of legal obligations on employers regarding the mental health of their employees that employers ought to be aware. These include the requirement to:
– Prevent discrimination and harassment against employees with a disability (which is defined as including mental illness);
– Provide a workplace that is physically and mentally safe;
– Protect employees’ personal information (including details of any mental health conditions, unless consent has been given); and
– Ensure that no adverse action is taken against someone because of their mental health condition.
Generally speaking, employers must also make reasonable adjustments to working arrangements in order to meet the needs of workers with mental health conditions.
Signs of mental health conditions
It is important not to assume that one of your employee’s has a mental health condition. However, being able to recognise the signs can be a useful way of managing the situation. According to Beyond Blue, common signs and symptoms of a mental health condition include employees who:
– Often feel tired and fatigued;
– Are unusually tearful or emotional;
– Get angry or frustrated easily;
– Find it difficult to concentrate;
– Appear restless, tense and on edge;
– Are constantly worried or appear apprehensive;
– Avoid certain activities, such as meetings; or
– Find it difficult to meet reasonable deadlines (Beyond Blue, 2016).
Remember, it is not your role to diagnose, and each situation will be different. If you have identified an employee who appears to exhibit several of these symptoms over an extended period of time, you should first reach out to that person and show your support.
Strategies for improving mental health
There are a number of strategies available to employers who find themselves in this situation. If that’s you, then you can start addressing the issue by:
– Increasing awareness of mental health conditions and reducing the stigma in your workplace;
– Being open and approachable to employees;
– Encouraging employees to look after their own mental health;
– Identifying and minimising risks to your employees’ mental health (e.g. unrealistic workloads and deadlines);
– Implementing a zero tolerance policy for bullying and harassment; and
– Providing training and support to affected employees.
There are also a variety of free online resources to help business owners manage mental health in the workforce. These websites are worth bookmarking for future reference:
– Business In Mind is an online resource from Beyond Blue that has been developed specifically for small to medium enterprises.
– Heads Up offers information and resources for businesses large and small.
– Mental Health Council of Australia offers a number of resources regarding how to achieve better mental health.
– Business.gov.au provides a list of personal counselling services around Australia.
Dominique Lamb is principal of NRA Legal. If you would like further assistance or more detail on your legal obligations, call the NRA Hotline on 1800 RETAIL (738 245).
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