Responsibilities at work may not always be the sole cause for poor metal health, but for some people, workload and stress can be a significant contributor. In Australia employers have a duty of care to ensure that employees are safe at work, both physically and psychologically, and can confidently perform their job without any adverse affects. So what happens when you suspect an employee is struggling mentally, and how do you approach it? Here are some steps to follow:
1. Arrange a confidential meeting
Ensure that you arrange a confidential meeting, in an environment away from prying eyes where the person can feel comfortable. Be professional when scheduling so that you don’t further contribute to stress or anxiety.
2. Be familiar with your workplace mental health resources
Be well versed in any company policies around mental health and resources available such as Employee Assistance Programs. Have hand-outs printed and sealed in a folder for the employee to take with them.
3. Adopt an honest, upfront and caring approach
Start off by providing encouragement and pointing out the employees strengths and contributions that they bring to the business – it is important that they feel valued. Consider the conversation to be somewhat of a performance review where the positives are discussed first followed by concerns. Be clear in stating why you are concerned.
Be aware that your employee may not realise the impact their mental state is having on their work, feel as though their personal issues are not your concern, or alternatively they may think that everything is just fine. Be prepared to be dismissed. But if your employee is willing to open up, be supportive.
Consider asking open ended questions where the employee is able to steer the conversation in a direction they are comfortable. Ensure that you listen openly and provide encouragement. Don’t push for information which is outside of the scope of work related issues – it is not your business.
It is important that you focus on solutions, not problems, and how you can help the employee in a business sense – remember that you’re not in their shoes, even if you think you have been before. Ensure that you document everything being said and consider ways of temporarily altering their job role and responsibilities to reduce pressure and workload. Offer your collected mental health resources and details about what’s included in the pack.
5. Schedule a follow-up meeting
Don’t forget that you have a duty of care to ensure your employees are happy at work. Once the employee has had some time to digest the conversation, potentially seek help and you’ve altered their work responsibilities, check back in. If the employee’s mental state has not improved, or gotten worse, consider offering them the support of an Employee Assistance Program. Again consider their workload and responsibilities, and refer them to free phone and online resources, as well as community service providers such as doctors, psychologists and counsellors. And once again, after some time, repeat the process.
Talking to employees about mental health may seem a daunting process, but it’s the first step in taking positive strides to ensuring happy, healthy and efficient employees. And when you make mental health and wellbeing a priority in your workplace, your employees will thank you for it.
For further reading and free mental health resources, see:
Black Dog Institute: Workplace Mental Health Toolkit
Beyond Blue: Workplace Mental Health
Lifeline – Phone: 13 11 14
Beyond Blue – Phone: 1300 22 4636
Doctor provided ‘generic’ medical screens are common and relatively cheap. They usually include an assessment of hearing, eyesight, blood pressure, and a medical questionnaire, typically sourced from voluntary disclosure. But the issue with a ‘generic’ medical assessment is that they have the potential to miss important information, rule someone out unnecessarily, rule someone in who shouldn’t be, or open employers up to possible discrimination.
This is why ‘generic’ is dangerous and can actually be quite costly in the end. If a role does not require a specific function, let’s say overhead lifting, and you rule a good candidate out because they cannot lift their arm over their head, then not only have you missed out on a good candidate, but you may have exposed yourself to discrimination.
Likewise, what if you hired someone to do a physical role and they were carrying a back injury they did not disclose to the doctor, or 'played it down'. They then aggravate their injury at your workplace, put in a valid workers compensation claim and have to stop work. This would be a disastrous outcome for both you and the employee, who is now injured and unable to work.
So how does a good Fitness for Work Assessment differ?
A good F4W© considers the actual physical and cognitive demands of the role and directly assesses a candidate’s ability to perform those tasks safely.
A good F4W© will be based on a task analysis. This is not a job description – which outlines things such as responsibilities, accountabilities or employment conditions, but rather a detailed account of the movements (like bending, kneeling, lifting), frequency of these (e.g. once/day vs 20/day), and load/force (e.g. push 25kg at waist level) required for the role. For example, the physical work an office worker does is entirely different to that of a plant operator - does it make sense for them to do the same test?
A good F4W© will be conducted by a trained allied health professional, such as an Occupational Therapist, Physiotherapist or Exercise Physiologist with experience in preventing and managing workplace injuries. These professionals understand the impact of injuries on work tasks, are trained to detect muscle weakness, poor techniques, signs of fatigue and strain and identify at-risk persons. Their recommendation is based on evidence-based clinical judgement. They can also offer reasonable and practical suggestions to allow you to engage someone with only moderate risk, such as aids/equipment or manual handling training or job modification.
A good F4W© will protect against discrimination and invasion of privacy. Asking questions or assessing things not related to the role can expose an employer to discrimination if you rule that person out based on those answers. Knowing the right questions to ask is crucial. For example, asking whether someone has had a previous workers compensation claim is fraught with danger – and does it matter anyway? What is more important is whether they can perform the role safely. Likewise, too many personal questions without valid reason can be an invasion of someone’s privacy and simply not relevant.
And long-term, a good F4W© assessment provides a baseline for determining how employees are affected by the work they do in your business. For example, an employer can assess the validity of an employee claiming industrial deafness, when in fact, they had diminished hearing prior to commencing employment.
Evidence shows that employees who are not tested for fitness for work have:
By completing an appropriate F4W© assessments, businesses can help reduce accidents, provide a safer workplace, reduce absenteeism and decrease workers compensation premiums and claims costs.
So, whilst it may seem tempting to take the cheap option, employers should consider whether this really will give you the protection and outcome you need. Or will it cost you much more in the end if you get it wrong?
Find out more about Fitness for Work services available.
Absolutely we should!
As Leaders it is up to us to provide the foundation for a strong culture of safety for our employees. We should enforce a top-down approach, adopting a proactive leadership style and promote a positive attitude towards safety in the workplace.
So how do we achieve this? Here are 8 simple steps to get you started that will make an immediate difference to your safety culture:
So at this point, you’re either ready to start making some positive changes, or you’re waiting for the punch line. Well, here it is… remember that figure? $61.8 billion!
You can’t afford not to make some changes. Throw the rule-breaking approach out the window and refuse to contribute to the statistics! You might just be surprised too because there’s no doubt you’ll also profit from the additional benefits of a strong safety culture: happier employees, higher productivity, positive business relationships, less absenteeism and reduced claims costs.
"For a workplace drug & alcohol testing program to be successful it must be clear, detailed, fair, enforceable, consistent in its application and focus on education and support."
Many employers develop a drug and alcohol testing program with the right intentions - they want to keep people:
However, despite their good intentions, most will fail dismally!
We asked our team of workplace drug testing experts what they see as the top 5 common mistakes in drug & alcohol policies and procedures.
Here’s what they said:
For more information see Work Options "LightHouse Keeper - Navigating Safe Workplaces" Article
On Friday night the Work Options team attended the People’s Awards for the Civil Contractors Federation (NSW) at Doltone House, Pyrmont.
As silver sponsors and long time providers of workplace drug testing, pre-employment fitness for work, workplace rehabilitation and employee counselling for the industry, we were delighted to see several of our customers both nominated and winning some amazing awards.
BIG congratulations to our customers for the following wins:
The team with Gladys Wood, General Manager, Haslin
Are employers responsible for the mental well-being of employees?
At some stage in their life most employees will experience some sort of personal difficulty, emotional trauma or mental health issue.
Whilst the issue may or may not be a direct result of their employment, it can have a significant impact on the employee’s ability to perform their job or, in fact, even stay in their job.
It can also affect other workers around them and impact the business in terms of decreased productivity, increased absenteeism, reduced presenteeism, loss of a skilled and valued employee, and increased recruitment costs.
Our new offices will allow us to better service our customers with much more room for the injury management, return to work and employment drug testing teams to work their wonders! The team are feeling very inspired with their new workstations, kitchen and breakout room, great natural light and views over North Sydney.
From our new digs we will continue to provide on-site & off-site drug testing for work, pre-employment fitness testing, EAP and workplace rehabilitation under icare workers insurance scheme, comcare and the motor accidents scheme.
its the evening of Melbourne Cup day, night shift has commenced and an employee reports to you that another employee has passed out asleep in a truck at work, and she smells of alcohol.
To make matters worse you discover that as a result of this, approximately 50 chickens have died. Your drug and alcohol policy says you have a 'zero tolerance for alcohol'.
Drug & Alcohol Policy -Sept 2018
On Friday night, 8th June, the Work Options team attended the Civil Contractors Federation (NSW) Earth Awards at the Hyatt Regency, Darling Harbour.
Representing Work Options was:
A fun night was had by all with plenty of laughter, dancing and great company!
Congratulations to the category winners:
As silver sponsors and long time providers of workplace drug testing, pre-employment fitness for work, workplace rehabilitation and employee counselling for the industry, we were delighted to see several of our customers both nominated and winning some amazing awards for some amazing projects.
Work Options was proud to be sponsor of the inaugural Safety Award for the NSW Waste Contractors & Recyclers Association awards last Friday night. We were incredibly impressed with the quality of finalists and, of course, the winner – Darrell Wilson. Darrell was a humble, yet very deserving winner.
See what the judges said below:
“Darrell was awarded for his response at high speed, in traffic on the M5, where he averted a potentially catastrophic accident which could have resulted in many deaths. Darrell was travelling on the M5 when a school bus carrying 20 children suddenly pulled out in front of him. His quick thinking response to stop the vehicle and turn the truck towards the concrete wall averted the collision. Darrell’s intention was to avoid the bus at all costs, even at his own well-being. Darrell’s driver professionalism & attention to detail, ensured that his response in this emergency situation was quick, appropriate & very highly skilled. In essence, Darrell put into practice what all heavy vehicle drivers should be doing and that is to be alert & attentive at all times.”