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What does it mean to Support and Accommodate Illness?

The Support and Accommodate Illness building block reduces barriers to employees seeking help and provides readily accessible mental health support for employees.

To support employees experiencing mental illness, organisations need to provide an encouraging environment in which mental health stigma is actively reduced to enable employees to seek assistance. Once an employee experiencing mental illness seeks assistance, organisations need to ensure they help employees access an appropriate mental health support service and establish supportive working conditions so that they can attend the service. Organisations must assist employees who have been unwell to recover and return to work.

Key strategies

Research shows us there are three main areas workplaces can act on to have a strong supporting and accommodating illness focus:1,2

  • Provide support and remove barriers to support;
  • Manage crisis and injury; and
  • Provide effective return to work processes.

Fact

Escalating mental health issues result in significant employee leave, which currently costs Australian organisations $1.54 billion in lost productivity.3

Why is it important to Support and Accommodate Illness?

Supporting and accommodating employees at the early stages of a mental health issue helps lessen recovery time and reduces their time away from work.4

Appropriately supporting employees experiencing mental illness demonstrates to other employees that the organisation is committed to employee well-being which, in turn, strengthens employee commitment to the organisation, increases productivity and decreases turnover. 5  

Research reveals employees experiencing mental illness often encounter organisational barriers when trying to access support and treatment. One of the biggest barriers employees experiencing mental illness face is stigma in their workplace.

A recent Australian survey revealed 43% of employees with mental health issues believe they experienced stigma with respect to mental health in their work environment.6

In order to support employees in the early stages of a mental ill-health, workplaces need to actively and continually reduce the stigma around mental health.7 By reducing stigma, employees are more likely to approach someone at work about their mental ill-health. Along with proactively reducing mental health stigma, research highlights leaders need to maintain open communication with employees experiencing mental ill-health to demonstrate that they can and want to help.8

Fact

According to a recent Australian report, only 15% of Australian employees report that their leaders proactively encourage and promote mental health policies and practices.9

Research-backed strategies to Support and Accommodate Illness in your workplace

Enable employees to readily access mental health support by removing barriers to seeking help.

Provide support and remove barriers to support

It is critical to ensure that employees who disclose a mental illness can access support. Leaders should be able to advise employees who disclose a mental illness about the support available to them (e.g. Employee Assistance Programs (EAPs), local GP, private mental health professionals), the services offered and assist them with accessing the support, if requested.10 Leaders should also report back to their human resources department any areas of difficulty in accessing support faced by their team members, so that policies and practices can be continually assessed and improved.

Employees should be able to access appropriate medical support when they first notice signs or symptoms of mental ill health. For many, contacting their local doctor (GP) is an important first step to recovery. GPs can make a mental health assessment, develop a Mental Health Treatment Plan if necessary, and refer to more specialised mental health support services (such as psychologists or psychiatrists) where appropriate. Getting help early can make a difference, so it is important that organisations reduce barriers to support. This may involve allowing employees to work flexible hours to enable them to attend appointments for diagnosis or treatment.

The following strategies help employees to engage with support services:

  • Ensure all employees receive information on how to access support services;
  • Ensure leaders receive training in what services the EAP offers as well as their role in facilitating an employee accessing the support services;
  • Ensure leaders are trained in the role of doctors in treating mental health issues; and
  • Allow the employee flexibility in hours so that they can access the EAP or attend appointments with their doctor or mental health professionals.

Resource

For information on removing barriers to support strategies, please see our guide.

Resource

Think Mental Health have developed a comprehensive list of additional mental health services that individuals can access for support.

Resource

For information on Employee Assistance Programs and how to select an appropriate provider, please see our guide.

A work design focused crisis and injury management process

An effective injury management process is vital to ensuring employees who are experiencing mental illness or injury can continue working. An effective injury management process enables employees experiencing  mental illness to do things such as attend health appointments and recover when away from the workplace and can prevent their illness from escalating into prolonged leave.10,11

Adopting a work design focused approach to injury management ensures the employee’s tasks and work conditions provide flexibility and accommodation for the employee while they are seeking treatment.

Key features include:

  • Task modification to accommodate the employee’s current capacity, while still using their skills to the fullest extent possible;12
  • Leaders who provide task accommodations conduct frequent ‘check ins’ with the employee to ensure the injury management continues to accommodate their recovery;13
  • Leaders and Human Resources personnel are trained in the creation and implementation of an injury management process with respect to workplace mental health; and
  • Teams around the injured employee are provided with adequate resources to continue to support their work goals while the team is not at full capacity.14

A work design focused Return to Work process

For an employee returning to work after an absence due to mental illness, an effective Return to Work (RTW) process is the key to ensuring a successful reintegration back into the workplace.15 An effective RTW process is designed based upon work which uses the employee’s skills, knowledge and abilities to create challenging and meaningful tasks, and is supported by appropriate organisational resources.

Adopting a work design centred approach to RTW gives a holistic and tailored view of the considerations required for successfully returning an employee to the workplace.16

Leaders and Human Resources personnel need to be trained in the creation and implementation of a RTW process which focuses on modifying the employee’s work content as well as creating a supportive and inclusive environment.17 Specifically, leaders and Human Resource personnel require training to effectively:

  • Conduct a careful assessment of the work an employee will return to, to ensure they are provided with well-designed, high quality tasks; 18
  • Understand when it is appropriate to, and then ensure returning employees are provided with a modified physical environment to accommodate their recovery;
  • Conduct frequent ‘check ins’ with the employee to ensure their RTW process continues to accommodate their recovery; and 19
  • Provide the teams around the injured employee with adequate resources to continue to support their work goals while the team is not at full capacity.

A work design focused RTW program is structured around the five key features:

  • Involving the returning employee throughout the entire process;
  • Creating appropriate workloads for the returning employee;
  • Increasing the returning employee’s job control;
  • Providing a supportive work environment; and
  • Continually evaluating the work design RTW strategies.

References

  1. Hanisch, S. E., Twomey, C. D., Szeto, A. C., Birner, U. W., Nowak, D., & Sabariego, C. (2016). The effectiveness of interventions targeting the stigma of mental illness at the workplace: a systematic review. BMC psychiatry, 16(1).
  2. Richmond, M. K., Pampel, F. C., Wood, R. C., & Nunes, A. P. (2017). The impact of employee assistance services on workplace outcomes: Results of a prospective, quasi-experimental study. Journal of Occupational Health Psychology, 22(2), 170-179.
  3. Brouwers, E. P., Terluin, B., Tiemens, B. G., & Verhaak, P. F. (2009). Predicting return to work in employees sick-listed due to minor mental disorders. Journal of Occupational Rehabilitation, 19(4), 323-332.
  4. Hargrave, G.E., Hiatt, D., Alexander, R, & Shaffer, I.A. (2008). EAP treatment impact on presenteeism and absenteeism: Implications for return on investment. Journal of Workplace Behavioral Health, 23(3), 283-293.
  5. Corrigan, P. W., Morris, S. B., Michaels, P. J., Rafacz, J. D., & Rüsch, N. (2012). Challenging the public stigma of mental illness: a meta-analysis of outcome studies. Psychiatric services, 63(10), 963-973.
  6. Lagerveld, S. E., Bültmann, U., Franche, R. L., Van Dijk, F. J. H., Vlasveld, M. C., Van der Feltz-Cornelis, C. M., … & Nieuwenhuijsen, K. (2010). Factors associated with work participation and work functioning in depressed workers: A systematic review. Journal of Occupational Rehabilitation, 20(3), 275-292.
  7. Wang, J., Patten, S., Currie, S., Sareen, J., & Schmitz, N. (2011). Perceived needs for and use of workplace accommodations by individuals with a depressive and/or anxiety disorder. Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine, 53(11), 1268-1272.
  8. Van der Klink, J. J., Blonk, R. W., Schene, A. H., & van Dijk, F. J. (2003). Reducing long term sickness absence by an activating intervention in adjustment disorders: a cluster randomised controlled design. Occupational and Environmental Medicine, 60(6), 429-437.
  9. Grant, A. M., & Parker, S. K. (2009). 7 redesigning work design theories: the rise of relational and proactive perspectives. Academy of Management Annals, 3(1), 317-375.
  10. MacEachen, E., Clarke, J., Franche, R. L., & Irvin, E. (2006). Systematic review of the qualitative literature on return to work after injury. Scandinavian Journal of Work Environment and Health, 32(4), 257-269.
  11. MacEachen, E., Clarke, J., Franche, R. L., & Irvin, E. (2006). Systematic review of the qualitative literature on return to work after injury. Scandinavian Journal of Work Environment and Health, 32(4), 257-269.
  12. MacEachen, E., Clarke, J., Franche, R. L., & Irvin, E. (2006). Systematic review of the qualitative literature on return to work after injury. Scandinavian Journal of Work Environment and Health, 32(4), 257-269.
  13. Grant, A. M., & Parker, S. K. (2009). 7 redesigning work design theories: the rise of relational and proactive perspectives. Academy of Management Annals, 3(1), 317-375.
  14. Durand, M. J., Corbière, M., Coutu, M. F., Reinharz, D., & Albert, V. (2014). A review of best work-absence management and return-to-work practices for workers with musculoskeletal or common mental disorders. Work, 48(4), 579-589.
  15. Grant, A. M., & Parker, S. K. (2009). 7 redesigning work design theories: the rise of relational and proactive perspectives. Academy of Management Annals, 3(1), 317-375.
  16. Durand, M. J., Corbière, M., Coutu, M. F., Reinharz, D., & Albert, V. (2014). A review of best work-absence management and return-to-work practices for workers with musculoskeletal or common mental disorders. Work, 48(4), 579-589.
Next step

Increase Individual Resources for Managing Mental Ill-Health

The Accommodate Illness building block increases the capability of leaders to provide structured, tailored psychological injury management and return to work programs.