Australian Government Department of Education, Employment and Workplace Relations



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Australian Government

Department of Education, Employment and Workplace Relations


Employer initiatives—Supporting the recruitment and retention of people with mental illness

September 2008

This report is based on research conducted by Jenny Pearson & Associates Pty Ltd.
for the Department of Education, Employment and Workplace Relations, 2008.
Disclaimer:

The views expressed in this report do not necessarily represent the view of the consultant, Jenny Pearson & Associates Pty Ltd., or the Australian Government or any departments thereof.

© Commonwealth of Australia 2008
This work is copyright. Apart from any use as permitted under the Copyright Act 1968, no part may be reproduced by any process without prior written permission from the Commonwealth. Requests and inquiries concerning reproduction and rights should be addressed to the Commonwealth Copyright Administration, Attorney General’s Department, Robert Garran Offices, National Circuit, Barton ACT 2600 or posted at ag.gov.au/cca.

Contents


Glossary of terms and acronyms

Executive summary

Project objectives

Key themes

Important factors and suggested strategies

A framework for the management of mental health in the workplace

A framework for small businesses

Information and educational tools for employers

1.0 Introduction

1.1 Background and context of the project

1.2 Objectives of the project

2.0 Research methodology

2.1 Preparatory research and preliminary consultations

2.2 Selection of employer participants

2.3 Research interviews with employers

2.4 Analysis of Information

3.0 Research findings

3.1 Employers’ understanding of mental health and mental illness



4.0 Prevalence of mental illness and other disability in the workplace

5.0 Attitudes and practices regarding disclosure of mental illness in the workplace

6.0 Employer policies for mental illness compared to other disability

7.0 Impact of mental illness in the workplace

7.1 Impact on the employee who has mental illness

7.2 Impact on the employee’s co-workers and supervisors or managers

7.3 Impact on the organisation

7.4 Issues that may deter an employer from employing people with mental illness

7.5 How these issues or barriers differ from those associated with other disability



8.0 Employer strategies for the employment of people with mental illness

8.1 Description of strategies identified in this research

8.2 Comparison with strategies for employment of people with disability in general

9.0 Employer strategies to manage mental health and wellbeing in the workplace

9.1 Strategies common to a number of employers

9.2 Strategies for particular industries or employee populations

9.3 Initiatives in the public sector



10.0 Workplace adjustments

10.1 Nature and success of workplace adjustments for people with mental illness

10.2 Limits and barriers to workplace adjustments

10.3 Costs and funding of adjustments



11.0 Employer awareness and use of government support

11.1 Employer awareness of the support and assistance available

11.2 Employer use of government support and programs

11.3 Support reported to have been particularly helpful

11.4 Other external support or assistance

12.0 Effect of organisational characteristics on strategy development

12.1 Effect of organisation size

12.2 Effect of industry type

12.3 Effect of organisation location

12.4 Role of human resource departments and other specialised staff

13.0 Case study examples

14.0 Important factors associated with successful employment of people with mental illness

14.1 Disclosure of the mental illness

14.2 Recruitment processes

14.3 Awareness and skills of supervisors and managers

14.4 Co-worker awareness and support

14.5 Flexible work arrangements

14.6 Availability of specialist advice and support for the employee and employer

14.7 Working together to manage the mental illness

14.8 Early intervention strategies

14.9 Managing return to work



15.0 Key strategies recommended for employers in Australia

15.1 Strategies for recruitment and selection

15.2 Strategies for induction of new employees who have mental illness

15.3 Strategies for supporting employees on the job and retention

15.4 Strategies for early intervention and prevention of mental illness

15.5 Strategies for return to work after absence due to mental illness



16.0 A framework for successful employment of people with mental illness and management of mental health in the workplace

16.1 Suggested frameworks in diagrammatic form

16.2 Framework components for medium to large organisations

16.3 Framework components for small business



17.0 Information and educational tools to assist employers

17.1 Topics of information or education

17.2 Preferred formats or methods of delivery

18.0 Labour market and industry environment factors

18.1 Mental health issues in particular industries or types of employment

18.2 Changes in the labour market or industry environment likely to affect the employment prospects of people with mental illness

19.0 Key themes and conclusions

19.1 Support for employers

19.2 A framework for the management of mental health in the workplace

19.3 A framework for small businesses

19.4 Information and educational tools for employers

19.5 Overall conclusion



Bibliography

Appendix A—Profile of employers participating in a research interview

Appendix B—Interview questions for employers participating in the research

Glossary of terms



Australian Employers Network on Disability

A not-for-profit organisation funded by its members to take on a leadership role in advancing employment for people with disability. Australian Employers Network on Disability assists organisations to build skills and confidence in relation to people with disability as both employers and customers

CRS Australia


A vocational rehabilitation service provider funded by the Australian Government as part of the Vocational Rehabilitation Services program

Disability Employment Network


A national network of specialist employment services supporting people with disability to find and maintain employment in the open labour market. Disability Employment Network is funded by the Australian Government and provides free assistance and support to employers of people with disability including mental illness. This assistance includes recruitment advice, on-the-job training and support to employees with disability and awareness training for employers and co-workers

Employee assistance program


An Employee Assistance Program is a service funded by an employer to provide confidential counselling for employees in relation to personal or work issues including mental health issues. Generally, Employee Assistance Program services are provided by specialist external agencies or professionals. There is often a designated number of free counselling sessions available to the employee. Employees can self refer or be referred to the Employee Assistance Program by their employer

Human Resources


Human Resources refers to any of the functions undertaken by the human resources or people management departments of organisations

JobAccess


JobAccess is a free information and advice service funded by the Australian Government. It offers practical workplace solutions for employers. Job Access includes a website (www.jobaccess.gov.au) and telephone service (1800 464 800) that employers can use to contact a JobAccess Adviser

Job in jeopardy/Employment in jeopardy assistance


Job in jeopardy/Employment in jeopardy assistance provides immediate support on the job to help an employee who is likely to lose their job due to issues related to their disability. This assistance is available through the Disability Employment Network or Vocational Rehabilitation Services

Job Network


A national network of private and community organisations funded by the Australian Government to assist people to find and keep a job

National Disability Recruitment Coordinator


The National Disability Recruitment Coordinator is a program funded by the Australian Government to provide a single point of contact for the recruitment of employees with disability

Supported Wage System


A process that allows employers to pay less than the award wage by matching a person’s productivity with a fair wage. A productivity based wage assessment is used to determine fair pay for fair work

Vocational Rehabilitation Services


Vocational Rehabilitation Services provides a comprehensive intervention, combining vocational rehabilitation with employment assistance. Vocational Rehabilitation Services providers assist people who have an injury, disability or health condition to work independently in the open labour market

Workplace Modifications Scheme


The Workplace Modifications Scheme is an Australian Government initiative which pays for the costs involved in modifying the workplace or purchasing special or adaptive equipment for eligible employees with disability

Executive summary

This report documents the findings of research into strategies used by Australian employers to support the recruitment and retention of people with mental illness.

The research was undertaken by Jenny Pearson & Associates Pty Ltd for the Australian Government Department of Education, Employment and Workplace Relations (the Department). The project forms part of the Department’s contribution to the Council of Australian Governments’ (COAG) National Action Plan on Mental Health.



Project objectives

The objectives of this project were to:



  • identify and describe strategies being used by employers in Australia to recruit and retain people with mental illness and to manage the impact of mental illness on their organisation

  • analyse the potential of these strategies to benefit other employers in Australia.

This was a qualitative study. The research methodology involved in-depth interviews with a sample of 48 employers who had experience in the employment of people with mental illness. The employers in the research sample represented a range of industry types, organisation sizes and locations around Australia. Interviews were also conducted with other relevant stakeholders in the area of mental health and the employment of people with disability including mental illness.

Key themes

The key themes emerging from this research are summarised below:



General themes

  • Employers involved in this study use a range of strategies and approaches to assist in the employment of people with mental illness and the management of mental health in the workplace. Most of these strategies have wider benefits for the employer and the general employee population.

  • A key factor in the successful employment of people with mental illness, as cited by many of these employers, is disclosure and open communication between the employee and employer.

  • Although there is growing awareness of mental health issues among the general community, research participants suggested a strong need for further enlightenment of employers about the potential benefits of people with mental illness participating in employment and the strategies that can be used to facilitate such participation.

  • Employers involved in the study who have successfully employed people with mental illness identified a range of benefits from this experience.

Support for employers

  • Research participants identified the following kinds of support as playing an important role in assisting employers in Australia to recruit and retain people with mental illness:

    • Disability Employment Network

    • Vocational Rehabilitation Services and other rehabilitation providers

    • the National Disability Recruitment Coordinator

    • employee assistance programs

    • mental health organisations

    • Australian Employers Network on Disability.

Important factors and suggested strategies

  • This research has identified a number of important factors associated with the successful employment of people with mental illness (refer to section 14 of this report). These factors include:

    • disclosure of mental illness and good communication between the employer and employee

    • appropriate recruitment processes

    • awareness and skills of supervisors and managers in relation to mental health

    • co-worker awareness and support

    • flexible work arrangements

    • availability of specialist advice and support for the employee and employer

    • working together to manage the mental illness

    • early intervention strategies

    • managing return to work.

  • The research participants have also suggested key strategies for use by employers in the areas of recruitment and selection; induction; supporting employees on the job; retention; early intervention and prevention; and return to work (refer to section 15 of this report).

A framework for the management of mental health in the workplace

  • Many of the larger employers consulted as part of this study sought a framework within which to build an organisational strategy for mental health.

Individual strategies recommended by participating employers have common elements that can be usefully combined and presented as a framework. Such a framework, which may be of use to employers more broadly, is provided in section 16 of this report.

A framework for small businesses

  • Small businesses consulted as part of this project commonly sought advice on more practical, hands on approaches that they could use to employ people with mental illness and promote mental health among employees.

  • Discussions with employers participating in this research indicate that there is a significant difference in the objectives, resources and capacity of small businesses compared to large organisations in relation to management of mental health issues. As such, a suggested framework for small businesses is presented in section 16 of this report.

Information and educational tools for employers

  • Research participants suggested that information about the following topics would be of benefit to employers generally to support the recruitment and retention of people with mental illness and to manage mental health in the workplace:

    • what is mental illness, including myths and facts about mental illness

    • mental illness that may be encountered in the workplace, including drug and alcohol dependency, other addictions, stress, anxiety, depression, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia and personality disorders

    • strategies to assist in the recruitment and induction of people with mental illness

    • how to recognise early signs of mental illness, including changes in work performance or behaviour

    • how to assist an employee who is experiencing an episode of mental illness or other deterioration in their mental health

    • services and support available for people experiencing mental illness

    • support and assistance available for employers who employ people with mental illness

    • the benefits of employing people with mental illness or other disability

    • liaising with the family, general practitioner, psychologist or other professionals involved in the treatment of an employee with mental illness

    • how to support an employee while they are absent from work due to mental illness

    • returning to work after absence due to mental illness, how to manage this process and address any barriers to rehabilitation or return to work

    • workplace adjustments that may be helpful for employees with mental illness

    • managing work performance where the employee has mental illness

    • tips for supervisors and managers to promote a positive and healthy workplace, manage any mental health issues that arise and support employees with mental illness

    • tips for co-workers to promote a positive team environment, recognise signs of mental illness and support colleagues who have mental illness

    • taking care of your own mental health.

  • The Mental Health First Aid in the Workplace e-learning course provided by the Australian Government through JobAccess received positive feedback from employers participating in this research study.

  • Research participants expressed a preference for a combination of information delivery methods including:

    • face-to-face education, for example, workshop sessions

    • websites

    • booklets and pamphlets

    • guides for managers

    • DVDs

    • CD-ROMs.

  • Participating employers reported that the following elements were important components of successful mental health awareness and education programs:

    • presenters who have personal experience of mental illness

    • real life examples

    • case studies

    • programs and presenters tailored to the target audience.

  • Common feedback throughout the research was that small businesses in particular may have limited time and capacity to participate in educational programs, or to access information about mental illness, and that awareness of the various programs and support available is very low. Although education about programs and support could be attempted through employer organisations, this information is unlikely to reach the majority of small business employers. The research suggests that promotion of a single initial point of access for information and advice about mental health and mental illness in the workplace, for example, JobAccess or an alternative portal, would be of benefit to small businesses.

  • Employers may find a website and telephone service and associated links to other sites and organisations useful for responding to employers’ more specific needs such as:

    • general information about mental illness

    • information about a specific condition

    • education or awareness raising

    • programs assisting with employment of people with mental illness

    • information about employee counselling and rehabilitation services

    • assistance in locating and contacting Disability Employment Network members and Vocational Rehabilitation Service providers in their local area.

1.0 Introduction

This report documents the findings of research into strategies used by Australian employers to support the recruitment and retention of people with mental illness.

The project was undertaken by Jenny Pearson & Associates Pty Ltd for the Australian Government Department of Education, Employment and Workplace Relations (the Department).

1.1 Background and context of the project

This project forms part of the Australian Government’s contribution to the Council of Australian Governments’ (COAG) National Action Plan on Mental Health.

One of the four key outcomes specified for the National Action Plan on Mental Health is to increase the ability of people with mental illness to participate in the community, employment, education and training.

It is estimated that one in five Australians are affected by mental illness in any one year and around 2.5 per cent of the population will have severe mental illness in any year (COAG 2006). Mental illness is prevalent and complex and is often associated with other social issues and problems. The episodic nature of mental illness also presents significant challenges for employees and employers.

The Mental Health Council of Australia (MHCA) reported that the workforce participation rate for people with mental illness in Australia in 2003 was 29 per cent compared with a rate of 74 per cent for the general community (MHCA 2007 citing Trewin 2003).

The SANE Guide to Mental Illness in the Workplace confirms that the symptoms of mental illness are treatable and that people with mental illness are able to live productively as members of their community when they receive appropriate treatment services and support. Employment can be a very important part of recovery (cited by MHCA 2007).

A survey of 284 people with mental illness conducted by SANE Australia found that:

The most important factor in successful employment was a supportive employer—respectful, understanding and flexible about work arrangements. This rated far higher than technical interventions such as on-the-job support from an employment agency. Having a supportive employer also makes disclosure of having a mental illness easier. (SANE Australia 2006)

SANE Australia concluded that the research findings emphasised the need for education of employers and managers, as well as the general population, so that workplaces will be more welcoming and understanding of people with mental illness.

Increasingly tight labour market conditions mean that employers will need to recruit and retain more people who have mental illness. Given the high prevalence of mental illness, it is also highly likely that employers already employ people with mental illness without necessarily being aware of this.

Financial and other assistance and advice currently available to employers who employ people with mental illness includes:


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