Mental health conditions are an often misunderstood but all-too-real concern for many employers. As I’ve mentioned before, the impacts of an employee with a mental health condition in the workplace can go unrecognized, but employers can play an important role in mitigating or reducing the impacts.
As these posts imply, some employers only think about how to help an employee after his or her condition has reached a certain point — either the employee’s condition is affecting his or her productivity or the employee requires a disability leave. However, it’s easy for an employer to think about accommodating an employee with a mental health condition prior to an employee missing any time at all. The good news is that, as employers have become more sophisticated in helping employees return to work following a depressive episode, it’s increasingly clear that waiting until an employee has missed a significant amount of work is no longer a necessary component to helping a worker get back on track
Rather than waiting for an employee to leave work and file a disability claim, employers can proactively offer stay-at-work accommodations to help valued employees with mental health conditions stay on the job. Here are a few ways you can provide employees with assistance early on:
Provide flexibility with appointments
Employees struggling with mental health issues, such as depression and anxiety, are often treated with a combination of medication and psychotherapy. The busy schedules of therapists and prescribers can make scheduling appointments tricky, and an exhausted employee with significant depression might be prone to just giving up on treatment. This can be harmful in the long run, as it could lead to further withdrawal and loss of progress that has been made to-date. Supporting an employee by offering flexible time off for appointments can go a long way toward enabling him or her to stay at work.
Consider schedule changes
Often, employees in the acute phase of a mood disorder will find their natural rhythms disrupted. This can be especially true for diagnoses such as bipolar disorder, which disrupts a person’s sleep/wake cycles and can lead to further triggering of mania or depression. Not all jobs allow for flexible schedules, but when they do, it can make all the difference between lost time and productivity, and a supported, productive employee who feels valued by his or her employer.
Assistance with focus/concentration
One of the most significant symptoms of depression is often one of the least-noticed and most misunderstood. Depression often has a heavy impact on “executive functioning” — the set of mental skills that help you do things like plan, organize, manage time and focus. When an employee is struggling in these areas, an employer can provide a variety of assistance. Some simple ways to help include breaking tasks down into smaller steps, providing task review/coaching, or actually moving an employee’s work area so as to provide less distraction.
As with most mental health issues in the workplace, a key is to take steps to enhance awareness and acceptance of these problems before they become a larger issue. Encouraging a culture that is proactive about employees’ mental health can be as easy as working frequently with an employer’s employee assistance program to provide training that helps keep the management team updated regarding trends in workplace mental health. The benefits? There are many, including enhanced productivity and employee satisfaction. The time to start? Right now.