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Mental Illness Disclosure - Knowing your Limits as an Employer

Boundaries are a common area of thought, professional debate and clinical intervention in professions which work with individuals dealing with mental illness. In counselling settings the invitation that is made to clients to alter the normal boundary around what information they share with others and how much of themselves they can openly reveal clearly has to be matched with very clearly defined and understood boundaries that puts a professional shape to that relationship.

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However similar boundaries are found all over the workplace, in HR policy and Key Performance Indicator documents, in employment contracts, legislation, return to work plans and performance meetings. Anywhere that an agreement has been reached about what is typical and expected behaviour for a given situation, and even sometimes only in the unspoken assumptions of individuals, there exists a boundary such as the helping professions would define one.

However they are expressed, boundaries, when clearly articulated and reached in collaboration with relevant stakeholders, can be the way we come to understand and assess our own sense of achievement, competence, self-worth and of our alignment with the others in our lives, personally or professionally.

Within the workplace, boundaries are often expressed as policy documents, KPIs and performance expectations, codes of conduct and even simple elements such as shift times and meeting start times. It goes without saying that when clearly articulated, collaboratively designed, well promoted and maintained with regular and equitable implementation across a business, these workplace boundaries can contribute to a psychologically healthy workplace.

Naturally, in providing a response to an employee’s disclosure of mental illness, and its potential impact on their participation in the workplace, it is these kinds of boundaries that require review to ensure that support is provide to the employee of a nature which is appropriate to their individual needs and their required performance.

It is in the definition of appropriate support and required performance that lie the challenges for workplaces, individuals and health professionals alike. Employees facing new or changing experiences of mental illness are already likely to be sensitive and perhaps less resilient in the face of changes in workplace expectations.

Clearly stated expectations, identified via professional assessment of functional capacity over time in the workplace, collaboratively developed and closely resembling the typical expectations for the employee are the most likely to maintain the employees function throughout and beyond recovery.

It may be obvious that a blaming, stigmatizing or inflexible approach to changing employee needs contributes to poor outcomes. However, even well intentioned offers of flexibility, relaxation of performance expectations and open ended support time frames can impact outcomes negatively if the boundaries around the changed role and expectations are vague in the minds of stakeholders.

The structure and clarity that is a necessary component of a well-functioning workplace can serve as a strongly protective and stable influence in the lives of employees with experiences of mental illness. The tools and processes which provide this stability are the very ones managers of all stripes use every day, however are also ones which they are the most likely to begin to dilute in the face of an unfamiliar mental illness disclosure by employees.

Injury Treatment's Optimise Psychological products provide comprehensive psychological assessment and treatment planning, practical interventions with workplace liaison and regular reporting. To learn more about improving wellness and how psychological boundaries can contribute to a healthier workplace, contact Injury Treatment now on 1300 622 734.