Few ‘awareness raising’ weeks are as necessary as Mental Health Week. That is because awareness – and a willingness to discuss it – is still so low. Despite wellbeing, mindfulness and campaigns like #timetotalk, employees are still reluctant to talk about their own mental health struggles and if they do, employers often do not know how to respond
This year’s MH week is focussing on relationships. The employment relationship is key to our mental health, second only to good personal relationships. Without a proper understanding, the risk is that the employer/employee relationship breaks down leaving the employee without a job – and often the employer with a legal claim and compensation to pay.
At YESS (Your Employment Settlement Service) many of our employee clients suffer from some form of stress or depression. Sometimes it has nothing to do with the employment relationship but the employer still needs to understand it and make adjustments. Often, we see clients suffering stress and deteriorating mental health and depression because of treatment at work, such as bullying, harassment and marginalisation.
Mistrust and suspicion grows and festers between managers and employees because of a lack of proper communication. In some cases the employee has not told the employer of mental health problems because of a fear about their job. The consequence? The employee takes time off work without any proper explanation and may expect the employer to accept periods of sickness without asking any questions or maintaining contact. The result: deadlock.
Often, managers do not know what to say to an employee who has been off on long term sick. Assumptions are made about what is ‘good for’ the employee. This could be picking up as though nothing had happened or being side-lined because of an assumption the employee can’t cope with any responsibility. Neither may be right.
Remember 1 in 3 people suffer some form of depression in their lifetime. It could be any of us.
Our Top Tips for maintaining the Employment relationship are as follows:
- Keep talking.
Where possible an employee should explain their condition and what help they need to remain in work or facilitate their return to work.
A manager should ask what they can do to facilitate a return to work and be flexible.
- Listen to what is being said – do not make assumptions.
A manager should listen to what an employee is actually saying and not make assumptions about what helps people with mental health concerns.
An employee should listen to what a manager is actually saying and not try to second guess what HR are intending to do. Often HR really do want to help.
- Think outside the box.
Employers should be flexible and consider all options when allowing an employee to return from long term sick leave. There is frequently no straight line back to work for people with mental health problems. An employer should expect to allow variation from an agreed timetable of hours etc.
- Don’t underestimate each other.
After a long term absence the relationship has been interrupted for both parties. It is fragile and needs a lot of TLC by both parties. Trust can be rebuilt if trust is reciprocally given and both parties are willing to work at it. This may sound cheesy but viewing things in this light can allow both people to have more understanding in their approach.
- Walk it out
It might seem a bit wacky but having a ‘meeting’ with your manager or employee whilst walking outside can facilitate a conversation that wouldn’t happen face to face because it would be too ‘intense’. People are more able to say what they mean when not looking straight at each other and having another focus – e.g. the scenery or fresh air.
And if you need help to build bridges and broker a solution, call us at YESS. Our aim is to resolve problems constructively which is why we never litigate. ‘Life’s too short’.