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Old 09-19-2019, 05:45 AM
MrLee is offline
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To what extent are employers responsible for the mental well-being of their employees?


Up until fairly recently, as a manager and employer my philosophy on employee mental health has been that - primarily - it is their responsibility. This isn't to say that I don't care, but I've normally considered subordinates' mental welfare as something that is mostly out of my control, and at best a potential problem to be managed and mitigated. If [x] is suffering from depression then I'm sorry to hear that, and if there are any reasonable adjustments I can make to make things easier for them then fine - but this is not something that I would prioritise ahead of my organisation's own operational needs.

Likewise, an employee privately reached out a while ago to say that she had anxiety and would really appreciate a heads up when the fire drill was about to happen. No biggie. If people say that their workload is causing them stress then I'll take a look at it - so far, so good. This isn't because I'm a great guy, it's because I know that employees perform better if they feel looked after and I'm terrified of litigation if I do nothing.

However, these days it seems that is woefully inadequate. The problem is that I am waiting for people to come to me - which people with mental health problems often will not do. Instead, I am advised to start...

- Developing a mental healthy strategy to change attitudes (we don't have one)
- Creating a mental health policy to set out its values (we don't have one)
- Ensuing senior managers champion awareness of mental health and fight to remove the stigma around mental health in the workplace (uh...)

Is my job as an employer to change societal attitudes about mental health? (Why stop there? We also have racism, antisemitism and transphobia to get through...)

Or is it to communicate to my employees that it's perfectly okay to suffer mental health problems and that I am sympathetic and amenable to them? (Privately, I worry that 'I have anxiety, so..' will become a prefix to a request any time an employee wants preferential treatment, but this may be unfounded...)

Plus, it feels slightly disingenuous to proudly claim to my staff that 'We care about your mental health!' when the honest truth of it is that I care about them being good employees, with mental health problems being one of the thousands of whack-a-moles that I have to deal with regularly.

Any thoughts welcome
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Old 09-19-2019, 06:33 AM
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My thought is that "Why stop there? We also have racism, antisemitism and transphobia to get through..." tells me I don't need to participate in the rest of the thread...
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Old 09-19-2019, 07:20 AM
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If you lose an employee, how much does it cost in time, training and lost productivity until you replace them? If the nature of your business and local job market makes the answer “very little”, you don’t have to care at all.
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Old 09-19-2019, 07:26 AM
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Originally Posted by MrLee View Post
Plus, it feels slightly disingenuous to proudly claim to my staff that 'We care about your mental health!' when the honest truth of it is that I care about them being good employees, with mental health problems being one of the thousands of whack-a-moles that I have to deal with regularly.
Employers should be accommodating to health conditions including mental health, and make it very clear that it's OK to take time off to take care of health conditions.

I agree that the thing in your situation sounds like an empty, performative gesture possibly with some ulterior motive. I don't want my employer to fix my health problems, or make me fix it, or educate me how to fix it. I just need time off so I can fix it.
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Old 09-19-2019, 07:30 AM
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Is my job as an employer to change societal attitudes about mental health?
...

Or is it to communicate to my employees that it's perfectly okay to suffer mental health problems and that I am sympathetic and amenable to them? (Privately, I worry that 'I have anxiety, so..' will become a prefix to a request any time an employee wants preferential treatment, but this may be unfounded...)

Plus, it feels slightly disingenuous to proudly claim to my staff that 'We care about your mental health!' when the honest truth of it is that I care about them being good employees, with mental health problems being one of the thousands of whack-a-moles that I have to deal with regularly.
I empathize with you. The first sentence I quote above is clearly off base, because societal attitudes are already well on the way to changing to treat normal variations in moods as compensable/treatable pathologies.

I VERY MUCH agree with the sentiment you express in the second portion of the quote above. But as an employer, I urge you to keep those thoughts to yourself, and at least go through the motions of doing what your laws/insurer advise. Good luck in keeping the line that allows you to still require your employees to do the jobs they were hired to do.

This is basically an aspect of your healthcare policies. What has been covered and what ought to be accommodated has always changed - generally expanding. Just figure out how to account for it as an additional cost of doing business. Possibly focus on the real economic benefits from having and retaining satisfied/content employees.
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Old 09-19-2019, 10:00 AM
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Originally Posted by HMS Irruncible View Post
Employers should be accommodating to health conditions including mental health, and make it very clear that it's OK to take time off to take care of health conditions.

I agree that the thing in your situation sounds like an empty, performative gesture possibly with some ulterior motive. I don't want my employer to fix my health problems, or make me fix it, or educate me how to fix it. I just need time off so I can fix it.
I'd think they should make a point that mental health is no different than physical health from the company's perspective, and that they need you healthy in both regards for you to be a happy and productive worker.

But... that also means that just because you're mentally ill, you don't get special treatment or accommodations above and beyond anyone else with physical health issues. You don't get extra days or accommodations that impinge on co-workers, for example.

Ultimately, what's good for the workers is good for the company, and is good management practice in most cases. The key is to draw where the line between supporting people struggling with mental health, and letting employees take advantage is.
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Old 09-19-2019, 10:26 AM
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But... that also means that just because you're mentally ill, you don't get special treatment or accommodations above and beyond anyone else with physical health issues. You don't get extra days or accommodations that impinge on co-workers, for example.
My point was not that mentally ill people should get extra accommodations (beyond what FMLA provides). Rather - the biggest obstacle to treatment (mental or physical), besides access, is usually that the company doesn't give enough time off for treatment or recovery. Before they embark on some dumb awareness campaign, they should do something about the biggest barrier to treatment, which is work itself.
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Old 09-19-2019, 11:14 AM
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Originally Posted by HMS Irruncible View Post
My point was not that mentally ill people should get extra accommodations (beyond what FMLA provides). Rather - the biggest obstacle to treatment (mental or physical), besides access, is usually that the company doesn't give enough time off for treatment or recovery. Before they embark on some dumb awareness campaign, they should do something about the biggest barrier to treatment, which is work itself.
I'm cool with that, but within the confines of the existing leave structures. Just because you're struggling with mental issues doesn't mean you get more time off than everyone else. Or... if you do, you don't get paid for it. Just like someone with a busted knee or whatever.

Anything else is patently unfair to the people not having mental issues.
  #9  
Old 09-19-2019, 11:32 AM
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Part of your policy would likely be to take advice as to establish what extent there are mental health issues in your workforce.

This is going to be an issue since this is a very personal hidden disability - staff will have barriers declaring such issues, and you will be limited to assessing what facility you can allow for such concerns, without having the right to know the specific condition.

You'd probably build in to your employee induction process a section that lays out what might be covered by disability/discrimination/mental health/bullying issues and how to go about dealing with them through complaints or declarations.

You may well be guided by best practice in similar companies to yourself, you would also be informed better if you are able to assess the likely impact of your activities upon the mental health of your staff - certain occupations are known to have relatively high rates of mental health issues. If your organisation is not one of those high risk occupations but you find there is a higher than expected level of mental health issues, or any other health issues this would indicate a matter that should be further investigated.

You might also consider the plethora of 'well being' publications and help for employers, this is good practice if only to demonstrate that your organisation takes these issues seriously - you never know when someone will make a claim against your company.

Last edited by casdave; 09-19-2019 at 11:34 AM.
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Old 09-19-2019, 11:58 AM
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Originally Posted by bump View Post
I'd think they should make a point that mental health is no different than physical health from the company's perspective, and that they need you healthy in both regards for you to be a happy and productive worker.

But... that also means that just because you're mentally ill, you don't get special treatment or accommodations above and beyond anyone else with physical health issues. You don't get extra days or accommodations that impinge on co-workers, for example.

Ultimately, what's good for the workers is good for the company, and is good management practice in most cases. The key is to draw where the line between supporting people struggling with mental health, and letting employees take advantage is.
This, unless you have eg: a doctor's note saying you require special accommodations or time off. But that doesn't mean paid time off, and there are reasonable limits as to what accommodations can be made.

On the other hand, if you work employees like dogs in high-stress operations without offering time off and a plan with mental health coverage or the pay to get some, 1) that's not cool, 2) don't be surprised when employees break. Don't replace bonus checks with membership in the jelly of the month club.

~Max
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Old 09-19-2019, 12:36 PM
Dallas Jones is offline
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To what extent are employers responsible for the mental well-being of their employees?

I do not know how large your business is. If it is a large corporation you probably already have someone who is responsible for disabilities coordination. If not, you should consult your legal dept/person and read up on the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). You can be expected or required to provide such things as extra time to perform tasks, extra training, reasonable accommodations, comfort animals, ect, ect. You are not expected to spend a great deal of time and money but the nebulous word "reasonable" applies.

It is a bit of a legal mine field and you should make your way carefully. Getting rid of someone because they have problems, without doing everything that you can "reasonably" do can open your company up to legal liabilities.

And do all of these things you mentioned above.

- Developing a mental healthy strategy to change attitudes (we don't have one)
- Creating a mental health policy to set out its values (we don't have one)
- Ensuing senior managers champion awareness of mental health and fight to remove the stigma around mental health in the workplace (uh...)

You should have a program in place. And while you are at it, look into the HIPPA laws that will need to be followed when the employee shares their problems with you. Because that shit is private and not to be share with people who do not need to know about it.

Be nice, be careful, and be legally reasonable as required.
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Old 09-19-2019, 12:38 PM
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Originally Posted by MrLee View Post
Or is it to communicate to my employees that it's perfectly okay to suffer mental health problems and that I am sympathetic and amenable to them? (Privately, I worry that 'I have anxiety, so..' will become a prefix to a request any time an employee wants preferential treatment, but this may be unfounded...)
I think this is a big part of it. There's such a major stigma against mental health issues that many people are afraid of losing their jobs.

Someone who had, say, a recurrent physical health issue that caused occasional days where they couldn't work and had to stay home would probably not be afraid of telling their bosses about it.

Someone with a mental health issue often would, with good reason. Because there's a very real chance that the bosses will consider them a major potential liability and try to get rid of them, even if the actual impact of their issue is manageable.
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Old 09-19-2019, 01:25 PM
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OP, you're "terrified of litigation" and apparently so is your firm. That's the impetus behind the new directives, right? And you can take that attitude: How can I meet the directives so I don't get sued? It won't actually help employees much, but if you're not troubled by that, then you can steal a policy from another company. Tweak it. Have a meeting where you pass out the policy and read it aloud. Hang up a copy on a bulletin board somewhere. Done.

OR you could educate yourself on mental health issues and how they impact job performance. You could stop assuming this is all corporate BS and use the opportunity to actually improve morale. Because the fact is, workers notice how other workers are treated, they notice when something is treated as corporate BS versus legitimate concern, and it impacts their feelings about their workplace, which in turn impacts how well they work and how long they stay with the company.

bump raises the concern about other workers not having to do the work of mentally ill coworkers who are gone for long periods.This indicates a separate management issue. After all, maternity leave is often two months or longer and cancer treatment, sorry to say, can entail weeks or months away from work. When employees have to be gone for an extended period of time for either mental or physical health reasons, the company needs to ensure coworkers aren't unduly burdened. The last thing someone suffering from a serious mental illness needs is resentment from coworkers.
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Old 09-19-2019, 03:41 PM
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I'm cool with that, but within the confines of the existing leave structures. Just because you're struggling with mental issues doesn't mean you get more time off than everyone else. Or... if you do, you don't get paid for it. Just like someone with a busted knee or whatever.
Literally that is what FMLA is. That's the law. But - nothing prevents employers from going further than that, if they want.

Quote:
Anything else is patently unfair to the people not having mental issues.
Do you think it's unfair that someone who has the flu or gets in a car accident gets a day off? If you find that unfair, then your concept of fairness is juvenile and can safely be ignored. Mental illness is no different.
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Old 09-19-2019, 03:51 PM
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Do you think it's unfair that someone who has the flu or gets in a car accident gets a day off? If you find that unfair, then your concept of fairness is juvenile and can safely be ignored. Mental illness is no different.
No, I think they should be exactly the same. What I'm saying is that mental illness isn't special, and shouldn't be treated any differently w.r.t. days off than any other sort of illness.
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Old 09-19-2019, 04:34 PM
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Do you think it's unfair that someone who has the flu or gets in a car accident gets a day off? If you find that unfair, then your concept of fairness is juvenile and can safely be ignored. Mental illness is no different.
I give my employees a set number of paid sick days. If they get sick when all of their paid sick days are used up, they get an unpaid sick day. I do not make an exception on the account of them being sick. To do so would be to effectively pay them for less work.

I'm not sure how this dynamic works for salaried employees.

~Max
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Old 09-19-2019, 07:30 PM
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However, these days it seems that is woefully inadequate. The problem is that I am waiting for people to come to me - which people with mental health problems often will not do. Instead, I am advised to start...

- Developing a mental healthy strategy to change attitudes (we don't have one)
- Creating a mental health policy to set out its values (we don't have one)
- Ensuing senior managers champion awareness of mental health and fight to remove the stigma around mental health in the workplace (uh...)
These are not tasks your employer should be asking of line managers. This is an initiative that should be driven by HR with the full support of senior management throughout the company.


Quote:
Or is it to communicate to my employees that it's perfectly okay to suffer mental health problems and that I am sympathetic and amenable to them? (Privately, I worry that 'I have anxiety, so..' will become a prefix to a request any time an employee wants preferential treatment, but this may be unfounded...)
If your company doesn't have a policy regarding accommodations it should get one. And mental health should fall under your accommodations policy. Someone saying, "I have anxiety" isn't good enough. They need to have documentation from a professional explaining the problem and what accommodations you can make as an employer to ensure the employee can continue to do their job. I don't deal directly with accommodation requests at work, but all employees are required to go through the accommodation request process if they want an accommodation.


Quote:
Plus, it feels slightly disingenuous to proudly claim to my staff that 'We care about your mental health!' when the honest truth of it is that I care about them being good employees, with mental health problems being one of the thousands of whack-a-moles that I have to deal with regularly.
As a manager your primary concern is meeting your business goals so your attitude is reasonable.
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