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Talking to Your Boss About Mental Health: Easy Tips

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Mental health is becoming more and more of a recognized essential aspect of our overall well-being, yet discussing it in the workplace can be intimidating, anxiety inducing, and full of stigma, so it’s helpful to know how to approach your employer about mental health issues effectively and sensitively in a manner that is respectful to yourself but keeps your workplace balanced. Let’s look at some easy tips that can benefit you and your mental health by guiding your conversation with your boss.

Do I Have to Tell My Boss? Understanding Your Options

Before initiating a conversation about mental health with your boss, understand your rights and options. In Ontario, employees are not legally required to disclose mental health issues to their employers. However, transparency can be beneficial if your condition impacts your work performance or if you need accommodations to perform your job effectively.

Consider the following before deciding to disclose:

  • Assess the Impact: Determine how your mental health condition affects your work. If it's impacting your performance, attendance, or ability to meet deadlines, it may be helpful to discuss this with your boss to find suitable solutions.
  • Understand Your Rights: Familiarize yourself with the Ontario Human Rights Code, which protects employees from discrimination based on mental health disabilities. This means your employer must accommodate your needs up to the point of undue hardship.
  • Seek Legal Advice: If you're unsure about your rights or the potential consequences of disclosure, consider consulting with a legal professional who specializes in employment law.
  • Prepare for the Conversation: If you decide to disclose, plan what you'll say in advance. You don't need to provide personal details about your condition, but be prepared to discuss how it affects your work and what accommodations might help.

You're Not Alone: Finding Support in the Workplace

Many workplaces in Canada offer support systems for employees dealing with mental health issues. These resources can provide valuable support and guidance, helping you manage your mental health while maintaining your job performance.

  • Employee Assistance Programs (EAPs): Many organizations offer EAPs, which provide confidential counseling services to employees. These programs can help you address mental health concerns, stress, and other personal issues.
  • Mental Health Resources: Some workplaces have mental health resources, such as workshops, seminars, or access to online tools and information. These can help you learn more about managing your mental health and finding support.
  • Supportive Colleagues: Building a support network within your workplace can be beneficial. Trusted colleagues or mentors can offer emotional support and practical advice.
  • Flexible Work Arrangements: Discuss the possibility of flexible work options with your employer, such as telecommuting, flexible hours, or part-time work. These arrangements can reduce stress and help you manage your mental health more effectively.
  • Professional Support: If your workplace offers access to psychologists, therapists, or other mental health professionals, take advantage of these services. They can provide expert guidance and support tailored to your needs.

Choosing the Right Moment: Timing Your Conversation

When planning to discuss mental health with your boss, choose a moment when you feel comfortable and when your boss is likely to be receptive.

  • Schedule a Private Meeting: Instead of bringing up the topic unexpectedly, schedule a meeting with your boss. This ensures you have their undivided attention and a private setting.
  • Avoid Busy Periods: Try to avoid times when your boss is under a lot of stress or the workplace is particularly busy. Your message is more likely to be well-received during calmer periods.
  • Prepare for the Conversation: Take some time to prepare what you want to say. This can help you feel more confident and ensure you cover all the important points.
  • Follow Up: After the conversation, consider sending a follow-up email to summarize what was discussed and any agreed-upon actions. This helps keep a record and ensures clarity.

Respecting Privacy: Navigating Confidentiality

Your privacy is important, especially when it comes to mental health. Here's how to navigate confidentiality in the workplace:

  • Know Your Rights: In Ontario, privacy laws protect employees' personal information. Your employer cannot disclose your mental health condition without your consent, except in specific circumstances where there is a risk of harm.
  • Be Clear About What You Share: You don't have to disclose all the details of your mental health condition. Share only what is necessary to explain your situation and the accommodations you need.
  • Request Confidentiality: When discussing your mental health, you can request that the information be kept confidential. Your employer should respect this and only share information with others on a need-to-know basis

Taking a Break: Importance of Changing Scenery

A change of scenery can have a positive impact on your mental health. You can:

  • Propose Flexible Work Arrangements: Suggest options like remote work, flexible hours, or a different workspace. Explain how these changes can help improve your mental health and productivity.
  • Provide Examples: Share examples of how a change of scenery has helped you in the past. This can make your request more tangible and understandable.
  • Be Open to Compromise: Your employer may not be able to accommodate all your requests. Be open to discussing alternatives that can still provide some relief.
  • Emphasize the Benefits: Highlight how a change of scenery can benefit not just your mental health but also your work performance and overall contribution to the team.

Keep It Short and Clear: Being Direct Without Over Explaining

Communicating about mental health in the workplace requires clarity and conciseness.

  • Focus on the Key Points: Clearly articulate how your mental health is affecting your work and what specific changes or accommodations would help. Avoid going into unnecessary detail about personal issues.
  • Use "I" Statements: Frame your discussion around how you feel and what you need, such as "I find that I'm more productive with flexible work hours due to my anxiety."
  • Prepare in Advance: Writing down your main points can help you stay on track and ensure you cover the essential aspects without getting sidetracked.

Mindful Communication: Crafting Your Message

Mindful communication is about being present and intentional with your words, promoting a positive and constructive dialogue.

  • Practice Active Listening: Show that you are listening to any feedback or questions your boss may have, responding thoughtfully rather than reactively.
  • Stay Solution-Focused: Concentrate on proposing solutions and discussing how specific accommodations could alleviate challenges related to your mental health.
  • Express Appreciation: Acknowledge your employer's willingness to listen and their efforts to support you, fostering a positive atmosphere for the discussion.

Proposing Solutions: How Your Boss Can Assist You

Being proactive in suggesting ways your employer can support you can be a great deal of help to you.  Here are some strategies:

  • Suggest Practical Accommodations: Offer concrete suggestions for accommodations, such as a flexible work schedule, permission to work from home, or time off for medical appointments. Explain how these measures can help you manage your mental health and maintain your productivity.
  • Discuss Reduced Workload Options: If necessary, discuss the possibility of temporarily reducing your workload. Be clear about how this could help you recover and eventually return to full capacity.
  • Recommend Professional Resources: If your workplace has an Employee Assistance Program (EAP) or access to mental health professionals, discuss how these resources can be utilized effectively in your situation.

In all these discussions, the goal is to create a plan that supports your mental health needs while enabling you to fulfill your job responsibilities with clarity, mindfulness, and proactive solutions. You can work collaboratively with your employer to find the best path forward. Onwards!

References

Ontario Human Rights Commission. (n.d.). Policy on preventing discrimination based on mental health disabilities and addictions.

Government of Ontario. (n.d.). Workplace Mental Health.

Canadian Mental Health Association, Ontario. (2017) Your Guide to Mental Health and the Workplace.

Mental Health Commission of Canada. (n.d.). National Standard of Canada for Psychological Health and Safety in the Workplace.

Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH). (n.d.). Mental Health in the Workplace. Link

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This blog post is for educational purposes only and does not constitute medical or other professional advice. Your specific circumstances should be discussed with a healthcare provider. All statements of opinion represent the writers' judgement at the time of publication and are subject to change. Phoenix and its affiliates provide no express or implied endorsements of third parties or their advice, opinions, information, products, or services.

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