Removing barriers to support
Removing barriers to support
Once an employee discloses they have a mental health concern, it is pivotal that the employer provides support and ensures any barriers to receiving this support are removed.
There are three factors that increase the likelihood of an employee seeking support. These are:
- Access to information on support services – it is critical to ensure that employees who disclose a mental illness or who display changes in their work behaviour can access a workplace support program or mental health professional (including local doctor, psychologist or counsellor). Employees who access support services ultimately spend less time away from the workplace and suffer fewer long lasting consequences to their health. When employees don’t have the right information available to them about accessing help, optimal outcomes are not achieved.
- Leader support for accessing support – leaders who do not have the knowledge and skills to advise employees about support services available to them, and how to assist with accessing the appropriate service can present as a significant barrier to employees requiring mental health support.
- Flexibility to attend support programs – providing employees flexibility within their role to attend support services.
Access to information on support services
Providing information to employees and regularly promoting available support services, such as Employee Assistance Programs (EAPs) or local GP is essential to encourage employees to seek support for their mental illness.
You can provide information about support services by:
- displaying posters around the workplace;
- placing advertisements in accessible and frequently visited areas of the intranet/internal computer programs;
- distributing brochures to all employees;
- placing advertisements in workplace internal communication; and
- informing employees about the services through team meetings.
To ensure employees actually use the available support programs, including EAPs, it is important to include information regarding:
- how to access these support programs, including who they should contact first if they require mental health support;
- the contact information of the offered support service; and
- whether an employee requires a referral to use the service or if they can self-refer.
Leader support for using mental health support services
Informed leaders are able to recognise when an employee needs to engage with a support service, which service is appropriate, and can guide employees through the initial contact with the service.
Leaders should be aware of the availability of workplace support services, such as EAP, as well as processes to access external mental health support services (e.g. via GP referral). The following guides provide information to assist leaders with understanding their role in supporting employees with a mental illness to engage with a workplace support program.
Heads Up – guide for managing a team member with mental illness
Heads Up is a Beyond Blue initiative that is specifically focused on improving the mental health of Australian workplaces. Heads Up provide information on when, how and why a leader should support an employee with a mental illness. This includes basic information on depression and anxiety and provides examples of changes in an employee’s behaviour which may be indicative of these. Additionally, Heads Up help leaders to understand common barriers to employees seeking workplace support and provides several ways to remove barriers, including adopting flexible working practices. They also detail the legal requirements of workplaces to ensure their employees who disclose they have a mental illness are supported.
Employee Assistance Program – Leaders support
The majority of Employee Assistance Programs will offer some form or training or information session for leaders (usually as part of the annual cost of service provision). Ensuring leaders receive information on what services the Employee Assistance Program offers and understand their role in facilitating access is as important as providing the programs. Leaders can ordinarily refer an employee who to their organisation’s service, or can encourage an employee to self-refer. Many Employee Assistance Programs will also have specific leader guides that can be used in inductions or given to new leaders, and may even have leader support phone numbers – staffed by people who can assist leaders with referrals and difficult conversations.
Heads Up’s Managing Someone with a Mental Health Condition guide provides support to leaders on recognising the symptoms of mental illness, organisations’ obligations with respect to workplace mental health and how best to support someone with a mental health condition.
The Employee Assistance Program of Australia details the list of Employee Assistance programs in Australia that meet the professional standards and guidelines they set out.
Flexibility to attend support services
A significant barrier to accessing mental health support services can be inflexible working practices.
It is critical that employees are able to access support services as soon as they notice signs or symptoms of mental ill health. For some employees, this may mean accessing the organisation’s EAP services. Others may need to be able to attend appointments with their GP who can make assessments and referrals to appropriate and specialised mental health professionals.
Employees’ work should be flexible enough that they can address their mental health concerns as soon as they arise. Providing either temporary or permanent modifications to an employee’s workload, work schedule or work environment enables them to attend or use available support services. In fact, under the Federal Disability Discrimination Act 1992, all Australian employers must make ‘reasonable adjustments’ or changes to the workplace and working conditions of an employee with a mental illness so they can remain in the workplace, provided they can continue to undertake the core requirements of the role.
Heads Up list the following as common reasonable adjustments leaders can make to support an employee experiencing a mental illness:
- providing flexible working hours to enable an employee to attend appointments through either a workplace support program or their own private treating health practitioner;
- adjusting working hours and/or work tasks to accommodate the effects of prescribed medication;
- changing shifts or the location of the employee’s work; and
- identifying and modifying work tasks that may contribute to the employee becoming stressed or overwhelmed, for example, dealing directly with customers.
Comcare, the Australian national workers’ compensation insurer and occupational health and safety regulator, offer leaders research-based information and advice for designing flexible work arrangements and implementing flexible work practices.