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Most employers want to do the right thing for their employees when they experience mental health problems. It can be difficult to see your staff suffer or in distress, and tough to know what exactly to do as an employer. There is no one-size-all solution to these kinds of issues. There are, however, a range of things you can do as an employer to help support your employees. This article will set out:

  • some tips on supporting your employees;
  • how to manage expectations around their work; and
  • a checklist for you to help ascertain whether your workplace is supporting good mental health.

Tips on How to Support Employees Experiencing Mental Health Problems

Mental health issues can vary in nature and severity, and your employees’ circumstances will also differ widely. Due to this, it is very hard to set out firm guidelines or rules on approaching all situations involving employees experiencing mental health issues. However, there are some general tips on how to support your employees:

  • above all, make sure you are a good employer. Someone who is experiencing distress might be anxious about being treated fairly;
  • provide a safe environment for talking. Encourage awareness and provide information about mental health issues, including alcohol and drug misuse and addiction;
  • ensure zero tolerance in the workplace for any discrimination or bullying based on people’s mental health status; and
  • be sensitive around disclosure and sharing of employees’ information. As an employer, you must maintain confidentiality and privacy per your employee’s wishes. You should not disclose any issues that they may be having, which they have only disclosed to you. 

Another general point is to avoid labels. It is much more helpful as an employer to focus on overcoming specific workplace problems, rather than what a person’s diagnosis is. Potential mental health problems are many and varied and may affect individuals in different ways. Diagnoses are often provisional and can change.

Managing Expectations Around Work

As an employer, you are still entitled to expect the performance of work by your employees. There can be a careful balance between these expectations and managing employees who are experiencing mental health problems.

The key point is to be clear about what you need, as an employer, in terms of the work that needs to get done while keeping an open mind about different ways this could be achieved. This may reduce the risk of misunderstanding or resentment. It can help find win-win solutions, such as a flexible approach to getting work done for a period of time.

A Checklist For Mental Health In Your Workplace

The government has helped develop a framework for ensuring your workplace is a supportive environment, helping to foster good mental health. When you are looking to check this about your own office, think about whether:

  • there is zero-tolerance for discrimination. Ensure that any mental health issues are treated the same as physical health;
  • there is zero-tolerance for bullying. There should be immediate action taken if bullying is reported, no matter who it involves;
  • your workplace promotes teamwork and reduces social isolation. Make sure your employees are working together for a common aim, even if their tasks do not overlap;
  • there are mentally healthy behaviours part of your work culture. you should reinforce positive ways of working, and promote activities and exercises supporting these;
  • there are positive interactions based on trust, respect and civility. As the employer, you can demonstrate these by following through on what you say and immediately addressing rude or unacceptable behaviour;
  • your workplace acknowledges emotions. Be aware of how employees are feeling and respond with empathy and support; and
  • people feel they can ask for support. Make discussing emotions easy to talk about, and have support readily available.

Key Takeaways

It can be a hard and complicated situation as an employer when your employees are experiencing mental health problems. There are things you can do to help support your employees, including ensuring that your workplace supports positive mental health, has zero-tolerance for bullying or discrimination, and reinforces good behaviours and practices such as empathy and open discussion. When managing expectations around work, make sure you are clear about work needs as well as open-minded about how an employee might complete that work. If you want to know more about supporting employees who are experiencing mental health problems, contact LegalVision’s New Zealand employment lawyers on 0800 005 570 or complete the form on this page.

Frequently Asked Questions

Can employees take sick leave for mental health issues?

Yes, they can. An employer can request proof that an employee is sick once the employee has been sick for three or more consecutive days (this is usually a medical certificate from a doctor or health professional).

What is a supportive workplace from a mental health perspective?

A range of things goes into making a workplace supportive of good mental health. Some good things to ensure are that there is no bullying, harassment or discrimination in your business and that social interactions are instead based on trust, respect and civility.

Should you treat mental health issues experienced by an employee as confidential?

Yes, you should. As an employer, you have confidentiality and privacy obligations to your employee, as well as a good faith duty to be careful around sensitive health information.

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