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What to do when your employee discloses a mental health issue

Even though society is beginning to normalise mental health issues, it’s not always easy to speak about this openly, especially in the context of an employer-employee relationship. Whether it’s fear of being ostracised in the workplace or being let go from their job, there are many reasons why an employee would not want to disclose their mental health issue. So when your employee plucks up the courage to do so, it’s vital that you treat the matter with utmost care. If you’re not sure what that entails, this Pacific Prime UK article is for you.

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Be proactive. You don’t need to wait for employees to come to you if you can recognise signs of poor mental health

To be proactive in approaching struggling employees (and to make them more likely to approach you), educate yourself on mental health and be outspoken about mental health issues. These days, mental health is used as a catch-all phrase for mind-related issues. While this isn’t entirely wrong, the human brain is impossible to comprehend and mental health issues can present themselves in various ways, like emotional distress, physical illness, and ‘off’ behaviour.

In the workplace, poor mental health may result in a decline in performance, as well as a change in personality or behaviour. If your employee calls in sick often, or consistently arrives at work late and misses important appointments, this could also be indicative of poor mental health. In other words, this is known as ‘absenteeism’ and ‘presenteeism’, which we talk about at length in our Global Employee Benefits Trends Report 2020.

Read more: The UK has released a plan to lift lockdown, but it won’t be easy for employees to recover mentally from the COVID-19 pandemic. In fact, coronasomnia (a portmanteau of coronavirus and insomnia) has been on the rise in the country, and scars from the pandemic may remain for some time.

Thank your employee for coming to you, listen to all of their concerns, and remain neutral in your approach

When speaking to employees about their mental health issues, especially when they’ve come to you with their concerns, remember to thank them for doing so. Acknowledge the effort on their part, as this will make them feel understood and cared about. In addition to this, give them a space to voice their concerns, as well as what they need from you. This could be flexible working arrangements to deal with their work-life balance or any other reasonable accommodations.

Maintain an open mind and non-judgmental attitude, and speak to them how you normally would. Don’t forget to consider the non-verbal cues you’re sending out as well. You don’t want employees to feel like you’re uncomfortable. On the other end of the spectrum, avoid probing too much on things that don’t concern you – for example, asking employees how long they’ve been suffering from mental health issues. Let them tell you how much they feel comfortable with.

Share your own experiences, but don’t make it about you and don’t overpromise

As an employer, you want to come across as human and relatable. If you have any personal experience to share, you should consider doing so. It will make your employees feel more comfortable talking to you. That being said, share positive stories, rather than negative ones (for example, of a previous employee who failed to get better), and remember that the focus is on your employee. What’s more, don’t assume that you know exactly what they’re going through.

Likewise, when having a dialogue with your employee, you may be tempted to promise that you’ll support them. However, it’s important not to over-promise something that you can’t keep, as it will only disappoint them later on. It’s better to say that you’ve acknowledged their concerns, you will need some time to think about it, and you will get back to them. Giving them a specific date is also recommended so the wait doesn’t seem endless.

Understand the difference between ‘accommodation’ and ‘adjustment’, and maintain confidentiality as best as you can

There is a difference between ‘accommodations’ and ‘adjustments’. While the former are exceptions to existing policies for a specific employee, the latter is proactive changes you can make for everyone that is within your company’s policies. Having said this, consider the case of the employee, and see whether they need accommodations. If they do, you’ll need to get HR involved.

This brings us to the next point: maintaining confidentiality. This is very important as you need to respect your employees’ privacy. However, you may need to bring up the matter with HR. In which case, reassure your employee that you’ll talk about it anonymously first, without naming names. But also explain why you may eventually need to tell HR to get the adjustments approved, and that the matter won’t be known amongst other employees.

Pro tip: As HR systems are increasingly tech-based, confidential employee data may be compromised in a data breach. Consider securing cyber insurance to protect your sensitive data.

Signpost them to useful resources, and provide tailored employee benefits like EAPs

Finally, you can signpost them to useful mental health resources such as telemental health apps to get therapy from home. If you don’t already provide this, you can also look into offering employee assistance programs (EAPs). These include a number of different services like crisis hotlines, counselling services, care referral support, and more. For more preventative benefits, you may want to consider a corporate wellness program.

Don’t know where to begin? Pacific Prime UK is here for you. As a global insurance brokerage and an employee benefits specialist, we work with employers of all sizes and industries, helping them implement corporate insurance and employee benefits. What’s more, we use state-of-the-art technology to help employers streamline the plan administration process.

To learn more about what we do and how we can help, arrange a consultation with our corporate team today!

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