Lander & Rogers' hypothetical scenario opens conversations about mental health in the workplace
1 in 5 employees in Australia currently suffer from a mental health issue. This is the alarming statistic that set the scene for a panel session hosted by law firm Lander & Rogers in Sydney last week.
Titled "Keep Calm and Carry On? A Hypothetical on Mental Health Issues in the Workplace", the session was attended by HR professionals and in-house lawyers from a range of industries. The panel discussed the very real and important issue of mental health in the employment context, continuing the theme from an event hosted by Lander & Rogers in Melbourne last November featuring The Hon. Jeff Kennett from beyondblue.
Using a hypothetical scenario about an employee struggling with mental health issues in the workplace, a panel of speakers provided their views and perspectives about mental health management, wellness, and appropriate legal responses.
The panel discussion highlighted three key lessons for employers:
- The need for employers to be alert to the signs of mental health issues and have an action plan to create a mentally healthy workplace.
- Appropriate workplace training is needed for managers to deal with mental health issues.
- Managers need to understand their legal obligations so that they can appropriately manage workers with a mental illness.
The panel, moderated by Lander & Rogers partner Aaron Goonrey, consisted of Crosbie Lorimer, Director and Company Secretary of Clouston Associates and representative of beyondblue, Dr Laura Kirby, Principal Consultant Psychologist of CommuniCorp, Leanne Parker, Manager of Employee Relations of Hanson, and Neil Napper, partner in the Workplace Relations & Safety Group at Lander & Rogers.
During the discussion, Lorimer highlighted that the warning signs of mental illness can be difficult to recognise in the workplace, but if they are identified early and managed appropriately, then this can lead to better outcomes for all, including the retention of talented, highly effective employees.
Parker and Kirby agreed that it was critical to "play the behaviour, not the person" while acknowledging that many line managers lack the training needed to deal with mental health issues because they have concentrated on traditional, performance-based metrics.
Napper outlined the various legal frameworks around managing mental illness, including the overarching duty of care owed to employees, and the risks of facing unlawful discrimination, bullying or unfair dismissal claims if mental health issues are improperly addressed or ignored.
Employers could consider implementing a wellness program, promoting RUOK Day, or taking an annual "workplace pulse" survey. A training program on appropriate workplace behaviour, anti-bullying, or anti-discrimination is recommended.
Lander & Rogers will be holding another instalment on this topic in the second half of 2016.
If you have any questions about the session, or would like a private briefing on the issues raised, please contact Aaron Goonrey or Neil Napper at Lander & Rogers using the details below.
L-R: Neil Napper, Leanne Parker, Aaron Goonrey, Crosbie Lorimer, and Dr Laura Kirby