So how do you broach the subject with your boss? And how can you go about asking for a mental health sick day? Here’s how to have ‘the talk’…
Don’t Put It Off
While we might be happy to speak freely with colleagues about physical injuries, bringing up our mental health often seems too personal, deep and complex. Remember you don’t have to tell the whole office about your condition – upper management will keep things confidential. Plus, chances are, they’ll actually want to hear. Mental ill health is the leading cause of workplace sickness – costing employers approximately £2.4 billion per year – so it’s in your boss’ interest to help you.
Set Up A Meeting
Your line manager, or whoever you usually speak to about taking sick days and booking holiday, will usually be the best person to go to. Ask to schedule a quick, informal chat – ensuring you have a private room to talk in. Depending on the size of your company, following this discussion you’ll most likely have an additional meeting with HR to find out how the company can support you.
If, for whatever reason, you don’t feel comfortable going directly to your boss, it’s perfectly within reason to speak to HR first. They’ll be able to break the ice with your boss and advise them on how best to support you. Still feeling nervous? Make notes about what you want to say, and use them to prompt you in the meeting.
Ask For Adjustments
It’s considered good practice for companies to make ‘reasonable adjustments’ for employees suffering from mental illness or stress. These workplace adjustments can be temporary or permanent and include flexible working policies to allow you to commute outside of rush hours, being allowed to take time off work for appointments, allowing you to work from home on occasion and temporarily re-allocating tasks you find stressful.
Before the meeting, consider if any, or which, of these adjustments could help you. Then think about how they could improve your work performance – i.e. if you were allowed to work from home sometimes, you could take less sick days.
Know Your Rights
A long-term mental illness that has substantially affected your life could be considered a disability under the Equality Act 2010 – it’s well worth speaking to your doctor or ACAS to find out if you’re protected by this law.
If you are, your employers are obliged to consider your request for reasonable adjustments (otherwise, they don’t have to). It also gives you the legal right to challenge any discrimination you face at work because of your mental health – whether it’s comments about your condition from co-workers, your boss failing to make reasonable adjustments, or your health being used against you in performance reviews.
Plan A Check In
Following the first meeting, book in a follow-up chat a couple of weeks later to discuss how you’re getting on. You’ll have the chance to review any workplace adjustments made, and whether they’re helpful, or make your case again for having some put in place if your employer didn’t offer initially.
If, worst case scenario, they’re not being understanding, having a doctor’s opinion could help. Bring in a letter from your GP, explaining your condition and how adjustments could benefit you, or offer to visit to a workplace doctor, who will assess you and advise your HR department directly.
If you’re struggling with your mental health at work, and need support now, the folks at Mind are here to help