Handling Mental Health Conditions in the Workplace

January 23, 2017 Michele Haugh

Mental Health America recently released a report for the state of mental health in 2017, and a key finding is that one in five adults have a mental health condition. With these odds, even a startup company with just five employees has the potential of one of its employees suffering from a mental illness and those odds increase as a company grows.

Consequences of Misunderstanding
It’s important for business leaders to educate themselves about mental health issues in the workplace to avoid problems that arise from misunderstanding. Some may shy away from hiring or properly engaging with employees who struggle with such an illness. For those who do, the consequences could adversely affect a company’s culture, productivity, and employee relations.

Factors Contributing to Mental Illness
Family history, age, stress, and emotional trauma all might factor into an employee’s mental health. While you can’t control factors such as family history or age, business leaders can still influence the amount of stress an employee feels and reduce the likelihood of an emotional trauma occurring at work. 

A study conducted by the American Institute of Stress reports that roughly one million employees miss work each day due to stress. A good leader will keep an open dialogue with their team members about work load and how they are feeling about their job.  As a result, leaders can make small changes that could have large impact on the team’s productivity and job satisfaction.

Businesses also can implement strategies to reduce stress at work. Some suggestions are:

  • Focus on wellness in the workplace and encourage a healthy work-life balance. 
  • Offer Employee Assistance Programs (EAPs).
  • Make the workplace fun and celebrate accomplishments such as hitting revenue milestones.
  • Encourage employees to use their PTO, and help them make plans for “disconnecting” if they struggle to do so.

Approaching Struggling Employees
If you suspect an employee might be suffering from a mental illness, SHRM suggests that, “A supervisor should approach a worker about a suspected [mental] disorder only if the worker's job performance has faltered.” If an employee is performing their duties normally, then it is inappropriate for HR or an employer to assume he or she has a disability. If assumptions are made or an employee feels like they are being discriminated against, then a complaint can be filed to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). This could result in fines or a lengthy court case which takes time and focus away from your daily responsibilities.

It is important to note that employees with a mental health condition fall under the protection of the Americans with Disability Act (ADA), and as such, it prevents discrimination against job applicants and employees with disabilities. To qualify, an employee must show that they have a disability that impairs their day-to-day activities as well as show they can perform the functions of a job with or without reasonable accommodations.

If an employee’s productivity is being effected, then HR can approach the employee. However, it is the responsibility of employees, not HR, to advocate for reasonable accommodations that would assist them in performing their jobs. When an employee confides in an HR leader that her or she has a disability, accommodations need to be made for the employee in order to be compliant with the ADA.

If an HR leader is aware of a mental health condition, the information should only be shared on a “needs to know” basis. If an employee confides to you about a mental health condition they have, then reassure him or her that their privacy will be protected, especially when their accommodations are outwardly visible and might draw the attention of co-workers.

When handled with care, many job candidates or employees are able to perform their workplace duties regardless of their disability. As HR takes the time to understand the proper way to coach and accommodate employees with mental illness, it helps develop a culture that inspires innovation and productivity, while promoting respect and fairness in the workplace.


About the Author

Michele Haugh

Michele is the Director of People Operations for Zuman. She joined Zuman after serving as the Director of HR for Apothecary Products. She has held a variety of roles in HR over the past fifteen years with SuperiorHR, IMPACT People, Paychex, and Kelly Services. Michelle has a BS in Management Science and Human Resources from the State University of New York at Geneseo.

Follow on Linkedin More Content by Michele Haugh
Previous Article
The Basis of Employee Engagement: A Strong Company Culture
The Basis of Employee Engagement: A Strong Company Culture

Companies may be wasting time and money trying to solve employee engagement issues with ineffective methods...

Next Article
The New Push to Repeal the “Cadillac Tax”
The New Push to Repeal the “Cadillac Tax”

Attempts to repeal the ACA's high-cost tax plan, or "Cadillac Tax," are set in motion and could result in a...