Unspoken Conversations are the topics that are often swept under the carpet, whispered amongst the closest of friends and bitched about by many. I want to create awareness about difficult things that people face in life; grief, mental health, money, illnesses, family troubles, relationship difficulties and putting yourself first. I want to tell the truth about things that really matter.

Wednesday, 10 October 2012

Mental Health in the Workplace - A Managers Brave Story

Being an effective manager is a tough gig - you are responsible for hiring, firing and making sure that your team performs their duties (among many other things). But what do you do when you notice that one of your hard workers starts to slip a little on their productivity, starts to become disengaged, starts calling in sick and seems to be struggling with tasks that they used to perform with ease? Do you fire them on the spot because they aren't doing what you hired them to do? Or do you take them in to your office and give them a warning? Or, do you probe a little further to find out what might be causing their change in behavior without delving too far into their personal life?

Today we hear a managers perspective on what it's like to help an employee who is suffering from a mental health illness in the workplace.

Last year would have to be one of the hardest in my working life as a manager.

My usual vibrant and go getter staff member, Jenny* got an opportunity for some higher duties and she jumped at the chance with huge enthusiasm – a few weeks later everything seemed to change.

Where had the go getter gone? Why was Jenny hiding behind her desk? Where was her laugh? Was she struggling with the new role?

I asked: “Are you OK?”, the answer was always a quiet: “I’m OK” – but she wasn’t.

Her work was suffering– she then started to take time off. First the mobile texts came from her, and then later they started to come from her partner.


I then got a call from her in the middle of the day wanting to meet me, urgently, for a coffee. It was there that I found out that she was suffering anxiety and depression, and she didn’t know what to do – her mind was racing with thousands of scenarios of how to manage it – but it was obvious she needed to take time to get herself better. She wanted to badly come to work, but the panic attacks and hospitalisations were making it virtually impossible for her to do so. She tried daily to come in, but it wasn’t working and the team was suffering. In the end we needed a plan – I tried to do this myself but I didn’t know where to start, as I was now managing a person with mental illness.

I needed to help Jenny, whilst managing a busy workplace and people, managing daily tasks, dealing with all the other day to day! But for me Jenny became a priority and one that I took home with me daily. Luckily where I work we have a Rehabilitation Coordinator who I could contact to assist me. I was able to let the Coordinator liaise with medical and deal her issues regarding leave and pay, etc.

 My job was to facilitate her return, with care and compassion.

It took a long time for her to get better and she had many setbacks during her leave. My worse experience was when her father and partner dropped in to the office to see me and provide me with an update – here were two strong men, highly emotional and it was hard to not feel for them – what could I say? I could confirm with them that her return to work would be in her own time and when she was ready, this small token was all I could offer – but it gave them a sense of relief!


Jenny, the rehab coordinator and I sat down and developed a “return to work plan”, following advice from her medical practitioner and accommodate Jenny in her return – in her own time.

Jenny was to only return when she was able and not a day earlier. Her return was a nervous day, she came back a few mornings a week and did some “easy” tasks, and then each week, as she got better and more confident she took on more tasks and longer hours. For me it was important to manage her load as Jenny wanted to jump back in and do more, but it was important for her to do it gradually and for the team to be clear on what her role was week to week. We stuck to the return to work plan, as it would be easy to throw it aside and say “if you are back at work - you work”, but for me it was more about getting her back slowly so she was working at 100% and feeling confident as she had to relearn her role. It took time and patience but she made it!
As a manager caring (not managing) for a person with a mental illness takes care and thought, understanding their needs is a priority – for me people’s health and wellbeing is more important than work.


Jenny won’t be my last staff member, who will suffer with a mental illness, but I now am more aware of what to look for, how to respond and where to seek help – the priority is always the person!  


1 comment:

AndrewJerkins said...

Nice post. It is necessary to prevent harassment in the workplace. Harassment arises due the lower mentality of some employees. To reduce this activity it is necessary to provide training to the employees. Thanks.
Training Management System