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Workplace mental health red flags

David Burroughs of Communicorp and Helen Ayres of Holding Redlich talk to HCTV about the red flags companies can use to identify a workplace mental health issue, and what companies can do to help employees.

Video transcript below:

Reporter:  Monitoring employees’ mental health and aiding or intervening to assist with any issue is a key part of the HR role.  But how is this best done and what can companies look out for?  David Burroughs of CommuniCorp says there’s many red flags.

David Burroughs, Principal Psychologist, CommuniCorp Group
David Burroughs:  
There’s lots of things organisations can be, can be looking out for and the red flags, there is a huge number of them that other people can see.  Most people can recognise when somebody is in [very] psychological distress.  People can see when people are emotionally suffering but people are often very reluctant to intervene and have a conversation.  

So by giving general staff the confidence and capability to recognise the stress in an individual, initiate a conversation and  know where to refer to internally, that’s a big thing all on its own.  That’s part of what we call psychological safety foundation skill that we think all organisations should have.

Reporter:  Burroughs says that HR and management need to have a high level of skill around this area.

David Burroughs:  From the organisation’s perspective we think that HR teams need to have a high level of skills around those areas as well.  Managers need to able to have those types of conversations, should also understand critical things like work health and safety obligations when it comes to psychological health and safety.  Return to work issues, they need to understand how to manage performance when there may be suspected mental health concerns at play, there is a whole range of things that organisation can really be doing there.  

But a lot of it comes down to spotting a change in behaviour.  If we can recognise a change in somebody’s behaviour, that’s often an indicator there is some degree of psychological distress there.  It is critical that organisations don’t try and turn their staff into amateur psychologists.  It’s not, not even altogether appropriate to be training people on the different parts of mental health issues that are out there.  What is important most is to give confidence and capability to intervene if they suspect somebody is having a hard time.  

Reporter:  Burroughs also highlights the fact many companies have systems in place that could be used to spot mental health issues.

David Burroughs:  Over and above that though, if you look at corporate Australia there is a huge number of red flags that people need to be aware of.  Absenteeism, presenteeism, declines in performance, grievance complaints, their AP usage, you know there is a whole range of metrics and red flags that organisations have available to them that are indicative of a psychological health problem within the workplace.  So it’s really important we don’t just look at it from a people perspective, we look at it from a systems perspective and what are the red flags available in those systems as well.

Reporter:  Helen Ayres of law firm, Holding Redlich says that if a mental health issue is identified there is many ways a company can help both the individual and the wider organisation.

Helen Ayres, National Human Resources Manager, Holding Redlich
Helen Ayres:  
Treat it like any other illness, they should have time off to rest and recover, but then encourage them to come back to work, whether it be a structured return to work arrangement or take some leave and then return after a few weeks.  Work with them [personally] to try and help them to get back to work because getting back to work is the best thing for them.

What’s important is to continue good work with education and such bright initiatives like “RUOK” day and also help them [obeying] that will be a key focus for next couple of years. At our firm we have focused on having offering yoga, offering boot camp sessions, whether it be walking groups and that type of thing.  So I think that they, both things might seem small, but I think that they add to the balance of work and personal life.