Managing employees experiencing mental ill health

Mental Health in Focus

This month we are highlighting mental health in the workplace with some tips on managing employees experiencing mental ill health.

1. The importance of a supportive line manager
Managers play a crucial role in the support of mental ill health.

An approachable line manager will mean that staff are comfortable in sharing problems. A good line manager will hold regular 1-2-1’s and catch ups to monitor workload, identify upcoming challenges and what support may be required from them and the wider team, offering a preventative support for stress and anxiety issues at work. 1-2-1’s should always deal with an individual’s welfare in order to help “spot” any signs of ill health.

2. Early intervention
The earlier a manager becomes aware of a mental ill health concern, the sooner steps can be taken to provide support.

Whilst being careful not to make assumptions, signs of mental ill health can include:

  • Changes in usual behaviour, mood or how an individual interacts with others.
  • Changes in an individual’s performance or focus.
  • Tiredness, quietness or irritability.
  • Changes in appetite.
  • An increase in smoking and drinking.
  • Increase in sickness absence and/or timekeeping issues.

3. An open culture
Staff who have previously experienced mental ill health should be encouraged to be open and honest and managers should work with them via 1-2-1’s to try and identify:

  • Triggers, symptoms and early warning signs.
  • How mental ill health may impact their performance.
  • What support they need from their manager – i.e. more regular supervision, support in prioritising, additional breaks or any adjustments to workload.
  • Whether it is appropriate to seek medical advice, for example from an individual’s GP or an occupational health practitioner.
  • Any support services available such as employee assistance programmes or counselling services.

4. Managing absence
In some cases, staff experiencing mental ill health will need time off work.

To support staff while they are away from the workplace, a manager should:

  • Maintain regular contact – but agree when, where/how and how regular.
  • Be positive, professional and supportive at all times.
  • Agree what the individual would like their colleagues to know about their absence and how they are doing.
  • Not pressure the team member to return to work before they feel ready.
  • Encourage a phased return.
  • Use Occupational Health or GP advice where appropriate to identify what could support a return to work.