Today is World Mental Health Day and is therefore a good opportunity to consider mental health at work. We are often asked when and how mental health became a workplace issue. The answer often surprises people, as it has always been a workplace issue, we just haven’t always recognised it as such. Although there is now much greater awareness of mental health issues impacting employment, there have always been situations in the workplace, which if looked at objectively, could have been attributable to mental health issues. In the past, we would generally have identified manifestations of mental health matters as employees being difficult or behaving badly or unable to take feedback. This historical approach often resulted in disciplinary intervention as a first step, when in fact a medical or psychological intervention would have been much more likely to be successful.
Mental health at work should be considered in the same way as physical health conditions impacting on employment. This means that an employer must make reasonable adjustments to accommodate any illness or injury, physical or psychological. However, such adjustments and accommodations do not alter the fundamental requirement that employees must be able to undertake the inherent requirements of their roles.
Understanding the psychological inherent requirements of a role can be challenging, but it is possible, and assistance is available when needed. Not all “challenging” behaviour at work is the result of a mental health issue. However, it is incumbent on all employers to give due consideration to this possibility prior to running down the disciplinary path. The first step in managing mental health in the workplace is recognising when it could be a contributing factor and dealing with such situations with sensitivity, empathy and objectivity. Early identification of situations where mental health issues may be a contributing factor give employers the best opportunity for successful intervention in workplace issues for the benefit of all parties. If you have issues in your workplace that may be related to the mental health of your employees, and are not sure what you could or should do, contact us on firstname.lastname@example.org or 3218 3919.