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Mental Health: A Big Issue for Small Business

By COSBOA Media  ·  on 26 Sep 2012  ·  Share
Mental health conditions affect one in five Australians in any given year. Almost half the population experiences a mental health condition at some point during their lifetime.

With statistics like that, it’s fair to say that your small or medium business will at some point come into contact with people with a mental health condition, either as an employee, a colleague, a manager or a customer.

Left unacknowledged and unattended, it might just become a big issue.  But handled well, mental health in the SME workplace is manageable.

The following tips will help with a range of mental health issues in the workplace:

Know it, understand it

The first thing that must happen is an awareness of the issue… not just for you, but for any staff you may have. We all spend a significant part of our lives at work, so workplaces are in a good position to promote awareness and understanding of mental health conditions, as well as help to educate people.

There is an Australian Government service called JobAccess that may be able to assist with funding training on mental health awareness in the workplace if one of your employees is eligible, or there are some wonderful free online training sessions available via beyondblue and other similar services.

Workplaces that are open to meaningful discussions with staff regarding mental health also allow themselves to increase productivity by introducing solutions.

What to do if you are worried about a colleague

You might notice changes in the behaviour or attitude of someone at work. This may impact on their productivity or ability to meet targets – as well as on their wellbeing.

Before you approach them, plan your discussion. Thinking about it ahead of time can guide you in what to say. A good starting point is to express your concern and be specific about the workplace behaviour that is concerning you.

Remember to respond to what your colleague or employee says. There may be many reasons for a change in behaviour; for example, financial strain, relationship breakdown or physical illness.

Addressing the behaviour of concern also allows you to put a plan into place.

What to do if an employee or colleague discloses a mental health condition

Step one… don’t panic! Mental health conditions are common and most are manageable. Ask how the condition affects your colleague. Don’t assume you know the impact their diagnosis might be having on their work or life – as mental health conditions can impact different people in different ways.

Your colleague may be telling you in order to increase awareness or to put a plan in place. Offer to discuss the issues and be open to learning.

If their symptoms are impacting on their ability to do their job, think about how the barriers could be overcome.  Some strategies to help include:

  • Have clear role descriptions and key performance indicators available to everyone. Use these to identify and address issues that may arise.
  • In some circumstances, an increase in the structure of the role may help.
  • Employment Assistance Programs (EAPs) may assist in providing support to your worker, and in developing solutions.
  • JobAccess is there is advise employers and may be able to help with ideas. Our website has accommodation ideas and psychologists available for a more tailored discussion.
  • If more specialist assistance is required, JobAccess may be able to fund mental health support in the workplace for eligible workers.

Workplace adjustments and accommodations: They may be cost neutral!

Many small and medium businesses are run as very tight ships. There is not a lot of extra cash lying around. The good new is that employers are able to provide a range of workplace adjustments (for mental health conditions or disability) at little or no cost.

Think laterally when developing strategies – just because something has always been done a certain way, doesn’t make it the best way. Circumstances and role requirements change. By reviewing periodically, you may just come up with better processes for everyone.  A few ideas to look at are:

  • Flexible work hours
  • Nominating a mentor
  • Consulting your EAP if you have one
  • Call JobAccess for advice about your particular circumstances

Prevention better than cure

Of course many mental health conditions will occur regardless of environment, but some are exacerbated by stress and an inability to cope with it. Good work practices and policies can support your employees more than you may know.

It is always good practice to, ahead of time; identify workplace processes, actions or incidents, which may contribute to high stress levels for your employees. Take action to eliminate or minimise these risks and create a supportive environment and culture.

For more information about managing mental health in the workplace, please call JobAccess on 1800 464 800 for expert advice, or visit www.jobaccess.gov.au.

JobAccess is a one-stop-shop for all matters related to the employment of people with disability, including mental health, administered by WorkFocus Australia on behalf of the Australian Government.  JobAccess is a free service for people with disability, employers and service providers, delivering information and advice via phone and website, and coordinating adjustments in the workplace.


Don't miss our upcoming webinar, hosted by COSBOA and presented by JobAccess on Supporting Employees with Mental Health Conditions.

Check our Events page for more information.