Issues relating to mental health in the workplace are on the rise. According to a recent study commissioned by the Prime Minister, around 300,000 people with long-term mental health problems lose their jobs each year. This is costing employers between £33 billion and £42 billion annually. Over half of this cost comes from presenteeism – employees being physically present but less productive due to poor mental health.
Behaviours that are often associated with mental health problems, such as lack of focus, diminished productivity, poor time management and staff conflict may be interpreted as poor performance. Disciplining as a result of this can cause issues for employers and make the situation worse for everyone involved.
You are entitled to apply your performance management process to someone with a mental health illness, so long as you remain compliant to relevant acts. However, it’s unlawful to dismiss someone on the grounds of mental illness alone. And if an employee can find anything to show that their work has caused their mental health issue, you will find yourself facing significant problems.
It is advisable to support a person’s recovery and do all you can to help alleviate stress before you put them through a stressful performance evaluation.
Look first at the environmental factors that have been impacting that person’s day-to-day lives. Have they recently been put through rapid change or shifts in the direction of their work? Has their line-manager been continuously supportive? What has been going on in their personal life that could have impacted their stress levels, and have you offered enough help and support in dealing with this? Have they been exhibiting signs of burnout?
Mental health has a significant impact on a person’s life, which will inevitably impact their performance in the workplace. As employers, we need to take responsibility for how our behaviour affects employees and do all we can to alleviate the situation.
Early prevention is a cost-effective approach that not only protects you from associated risks but helps to develop a nurturing company culture. You can put prevention plans in place by:
- Training staff and HR to recognise the early signs of mental health problems and teach them basic coaching skills that will enable them to have more positive and productive conversations with their staff
- Providing a safe space for employees to come and discuss any issues they may be having inside and outside the workplace
- Ensuring your employees know that they are supported in all they do at work
- Asking whether there are any issues that are particularly bothering them and give them the opportunity to confide
- Being flexible where possible to accommodate anything caused by external stressors to help them stay engaged and improve their performance
- Asking questions and being kind and compassionate in your responses
- Addressing performance issues as soon as possible and get to the root of the cause in a supportive and nurturing way.
Your company culture plays an important role in helping someone suffering from mental health issues in the workplace. It also helps prevent these issues from escalating and creates positive processes for dealing with all performance-related issues.
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