It so happens I have been doing research of late on good practice in the work-place relating to reducing work related stress and managing mental health difficulties at work.
I have found an array of words saying how important stress risk assessments are and about the need for good back-to-work interviews, phased return and reasonable adjustments. I have read paragraph after paragraph about the importance of managerial responsibility and frameworks of good practice and the importance of having inclusive and supportive policies. I have read almost nothing on what to actually do!
I feel this is a related problem to my experience of student disability support – the ideas about mental health support were related to having it not doing it. So what can actually be done to support people?
Lets start with return to work. Why not start with prevention? Well in a nutshell because I believe it doesn’t work, there just isn’t a way to prevent people generally going mad, what works for you might not work for me etc and sometimes no amount of positive working environment can prevent your family from dying or screwing you up or your brain flipping over into pretty colours and delusions. So anyway you had a breakdown, you are basically nuts but you still want to earn a living (possibly a sign you are truly crazy) and you go back to your employer.. I have seen 3 different responses.
By far the worst was a simple statement of “OK. so now you have to make up the hours you were off”; on the next scale up we have the “I see that we are obligated to follow your Dr’s recommendations about working hours so how about you do a few weeks just days then go back to shifts”; and finally we have the best which included meetings with line manager to discussed progress, consultation with a company appointed Dr and more than a month of reduced hours plus continued expectation of requests for some extra breathing space.
It seems so simple to see that for someone who simply isn’t coping with the process of living, that both returning to work with its structure and purpose and keeping the pressure light and the hours short should be positive steps to self-management so what stops company’s from doing this? Its not the policy statements that follow governmental guidelines and industry standards it is simply the hassle and cost of arranging work-cover and negotiating time limits (which is not to suggest that these things are not difficult especially for small businesses nor is it meant to suggest that there might not be financial repercussions for a constructive dismissal case but simply that a lot of managers can’t see past this issue)
Alright so you go back to work, under whatever arrangement you make with your line manager, and you should be given a hand to make the transition back. If its an ongoing issue or you are away from work for a significant amount of time you are pretty much covered under DDA and therefore they can’t sack you for being mad and you are entitled to ask for reasonable adjustments. I am fairly clear on the sort of adjustments you can make for a blind person but I am a little hazy on what those might entail for someone with ongoing mental health issues.. Here are some thoughts:
- A quiet space to take breaks in
- flexible working hours (esp useful if meds make you woozy or public transport in rush hour reduces you to a quivering heap)
- clear goals and targets
- sensible office lighting ideally including daylight
- An external neutral party – to discuss issues with colleagues, work etc
What Have I missed?