As Mental Health Awareness Month (in the U.S.) continues, we’re sharing strategies and approaches to help leaders respond to employees with mental illness in a psychologically safe way. When employees have mental illnesses, effective accommodation can help them stay productive at work. Leaders can learn to leverage resources, manage co-worker reactions and support a successful return to work after leave. 

The information and resource links below can help employers to accomplish the following:

  • Recognize legal obligations
  • Identify when an employee may be struggling
  • Improve comfort level when approaching an employee
  • Support employees with mental illness to stay productive
  • Avoid saying the wrong thing and making the situation worse.

Supporting Employees With Mental Health Challenges8 Ways to Help

1. Learn About Mental Illness in the Workplace

  • Watch these videos to learn from those who describe having a mental illness at work, including tips for managers and employers.
  • Identify when employees may be struggling. You don’t need to become a mental health expert to help employees who are struggling at work
  • Prepare to respond. Very few employees with mental illness ever have an episode of psychosis at work but, by learning how to respond, you can improve the outcome for all concerned. 

2. Communicate

Learn how to approach and communicate with an employee who may be struggling. If you feel uncomfortable communicating with emotional employees, check out these tips and strategies to help. 

3. Refer Employees to Resources

It’s not your role to diagnose, treat or counsel employees’ personal, financial, family or health issues. In fact, it can be unfair to them because, as their superior, you can influence whether or not they have a source of income. Your role is to support them to be successful on the job. While you can be supportive by listening to whatever issues your employees feel safe disclosing, offering advice can be problematic. Instead, refer your employees to helpful resources. Learn how to tactfully refer employees to mental health resources, or create your own mental health resource list in advance to hand out.

4. Know Your Legal Duties

There may be a legal duty to accommodate an employee with mental illness, according to Human Rights legislation. This means you may need to modify their job to allow them to work successfully.

5. Make Effective Accommodations

  • Accommodate to allow employees to do their job. The objective of accommodation is to help employees who have a disability to remain productive. You’ll be more likely to develop sustainable solutions when you ask employees what will work for them. Accommodation strategies can help support the discussion with an employee who has a mental health–related disability. 
  • Use a tool to support employee success. The Workplace Strategies team developed this comprehensive resource to help you facilitate an accommodation process that deals with work-related issues like meeting deadlines, attention to detail and working relationships. 
  • Get commitment instead of compliance. When you engage employees in the process of creating approaches that will support their success, they’ll be more likely to commit to making it work.
  • Engage union reps to help support accommodations if you are in a unionized environment. A union representative can help support successful accommodation or return to work in many ways. This support can be critical to an employee with a mental health issue and can help bolster their ongoing success on the job.

6. Plan a Successful Return to Work

An employee’s return to work after a mental health leave is a critical time to support success. You can avoid potential issues by maintaining contact during their leave and planning before their return. Before the employee returns to work, create a plan in collaboration with them to address potential issues, such as working relationships and performance.

7. Manage Performance Issues and Conflicts

Learn about conflict and performance management approaches that are effective for employees with mental illnesses like depression and anxiety. These same approaches can be effective with anyone.

8. Address Co-Worker Reactions

Managing co-workers’ reactions to accommodation can help you deal with employee fears, concerns or resentments about their co-worker’s accommodation. This is important because unresolved issues can impact the success of disability accommodation.

 A huge thank-you to Workplace Strategies for Mental Health for letting us share this helpful information with our benefits community. Contributors include Mary Ann Baynton and the Workplace Strategies team.

Cara McMullin
Communications Specialist

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Cara McMullin

Communications Specialist Favorite Foundation Product: Word on Benefits Blog Benefits-related Topics That Interest Her Most: Equity and Inclusion, Workplace Wellness Personal Insight: Cara loves live theatre, concerts, and festivals – lots of fantastic options in Wisconsin. In her spare time, you can also find her reading, streaming TV/movies and spending time with family and friends at local restaurants, outdoor concerts, and farmers markets.

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