Mental Health, what’s your role?
Our experience is that more and more HR and people managers are expected to act as the early warning mechanism for mental health in the workplace. We are required to have our “antenna” up and be sensitive to the signals being sent out by our people, so that we can tune in when there’s a mental health issue.
We know that mental health concerns are a pervasive and growing issue in our workplaces with Beyond Blue stating that 6 million working days are lost in Australia every year simply from untreated depression. That is more than half a day for every single employee in the entire Australian workforce for this issue alone. What’s your FTE? You do the $ calculation of this hit to your business every year.
It’s not just about the behaviour
In a recent case we were assisting a Manager who was in ‘conflict’ with an employee. The employee was demonstrating behaviours that were confronting yet were not so overt that management felt a formal warning was appropriate. This coincided with the “Jim’s” performance dropping his resistance to acknowledging this and him refusing support. Jim started to say that he was recording conversations with co-workers and his Manager, though he probably did not do this. Then Jim put a little bike mirror on his computer monitor so he could keep his manager under surveillance. He justified this by saying that it meant he could see behind him when people walked passed.
The Manager, “Simon”, became increasingly stressed. All he could see was a “difficult person” who “behaved badly” and was “not accepting responsibility for his performance and actions”. Simon felt powerless to positively influence Jim and his own output and self-esteem were suffering terribly. Simon was on the brink of resigning.
The behaviour by Jim was a symptom of an underlying mental health issue. Traditional behavioural warnings were not going to change anything and would more than likely to lead to formal grievances within the business and at Fair Work (or another external agency). Of course they would also be hugely detrimental to both the Jim and Simon.
An approach that looked to acknowledge, confront and deal with the mental health issues was required. This is complex and often employees do not want to discuss these issues, however this is essential if there is to be any gains at work for the people. There is no easy fix or one size fits all approach to these situations.
Do you have a Mental Health antenna?
As HR practitioners and people managers we are not Doctors or Psychologists yet there is a growing expectation and requirement for a meaningful understanding of the underlying mental condition of people in the workplace. Is this fair and reasonable? Perhaps not. Is it reality? YES.
The ZALT Group have recently attended both the Pro-Active Risk Assessment and Management Workshop & a Mental Health First Aide course. Recently I presented at the No2Bullying Conference on “When claims of bullying and mental health issues collide”.
HR, the business is looking to us to provide assistance and often to take responsibility for these complex situations. As an HR practitioner do you feel prepared? Is your antenna tuned to the frequency of mental health? Do you have the skills and confidence to raise delicate issues without offending or making issues worse?
If you are having trouble “managing” or “dealing” with this issue in the workplace we are well placed to provide you with assistance, please make contact with us.