There’s a growing body of evidence that shows how relatively minor adjustments in the workplace can have a huge impact on supporting people with mental health problems and help them stay in work.
The Department of Health has published guidance that will help employers think through the changes that they can make in the workplace to support their employees. There’s practical advice and lots of links to support organisations in the 6-page document.
The good practice for applying workplace adjustments from the guidance are as follows:
- Have an open, honest and practical conversation with the person about how their mental health condition impacts their work and what adjustments can be made.
- Ask the individual what they need – they are often the best experts of managing their condition.
- Focus on what the person can do – not what they can’t.
- Tailor adjustments to the specific needs and abilities of the individual – be creative.
- Be flexible – as some mental health conditions can be episodic. It may be more helpful to agree adjustments that can be implemented as and when required and revoked when not.
- Agree the adjustments which are appropriate for the organisation and the individual.
- Be realistic about what you can offer. If you are unsure, consult your Human Resources department or the ACAS helpline may be able to offer you guidance.
- Regularly review the adjustments to ensure they are working and are still appropriate.
- With the permission of the individual communicate the adjustments to other team members to alleviate perceptions of favourable treatment.
- Consider the wider organisational context in which the adjustments are being made and whether or not they can be offered to all staff.
- Always take advice (as above) where you’re not sure what to do.
Advice for employers on workplace adjustments for mental health conditions (PDF). Department of Health, 10 Sep 2012.
Having attended European conferences on the issue, I worry about two of the points above:
Be realistic about what you can offer: I fear many companies will not be able to offer the flexibility needed by the person, especially with blue collar jobs or when there isn’t enough staff to cover for, say, outpatients appointments.
Sharing information: That is a really difficult ones as information has a knack of often going much further than it needs to go.
One issue that is not mentioned here but which was mentioned many times at those conferences is jealousy from other staff members once they realise that one of their colleagues seems to be treated differently from them. This is where discrimination and bullying find their feeding ground.
There is still so much frustration around mental health distress. Two examples of this are:
1-The absolutely dreadul poster campaign run by London mayor Boris Johnson on the Tube telling people who wish to kill themselves to do so at home and to stop annoying the general public on the tube (See this link: http://www.anorak.co.uk/325483/news/a-message-to-suicide-minded-london-underground-users.html/)
2- A reaction in my city this week: The traffic on one of main roads was blocked for over 3 hours, creating traffic jams within a radius of about 3 miles. I got caught in it. Stopping to get some petrol, the attendant told me what was happening in no uncertain terms and described how selfish this person was who wanted to jump off the flyover. Other shoppers agreed with her. I was angry at such lack of compassion and understanding. There was talk of lack of strong will, that people need to pull their socks up etc. They confused having the blues and being in such a desperate place that suicide is the only solution. They had the same message as the odious Johnson: if people want to kill themselves, by all means, but do so it quietly and away from the rest of us.
I think there is much more to do…