Katrina*, secretary, VIC

Katrina* is a secretary in a large company. She has worked for a senior manager for 10 years, having come with him from another company. They always got on well and her work had been good. After a number of years, Katrina started to suffer from depression, anxiety and panic attacks. She was often absent and when at work, would spend long periods of time away from her desk. Her work performance suffered, she found it difficult to complete work on time and would often forget things.

After a long period of time trying to support Katrina and help her manage her work, her supervisor contacted the HR department because he felt unable to continue to do this. The HR manager met with Katrina for coffee. Initially, Katrina was uncomfortable about disclosing details of her mental health problems but did eventually give permission for the HR manager to contact her doctor.

Katrina let the HR manager know that she was organising to meet with a psychologist. The HR manager kept in contact with Katrina to follow her progress and also kept in contact with Katrina’s supervisor to monitor her work performance. However, her mental health did not improve and after 4 months it became clear that Katrina was not keeping the appointments with her psychologist.

At this point, the company engaged a rehabilitation provider to help support Katrina and bring a work focus to her treatment. The rehabilitation provider accompanied Katrina to the sessions with her doctor and her psychologist. As Katrina’s GP was not willing to give the company very much information about Katrina’s condition, the company also organised for Katrina to see a psychiatrist and to have cognitive testing.

After having more time off work, Katrina returned and the company arranged modified work arrangements for her. Her secretarial role was changed to a word processing role and her hours were reduced. However, Katrina remains unwell and has had more time off work.

*not her real name

Key learning points

  • As a supervisor it is important to raise concerns about an employee and seek help at an early stage. Katrina’s supervisor should have raised his concerns about her with the HR manager at an earlier stage. This would have helped Katrina to get into treatment earlier and improved her chances of recovery.
  • If an employee’s work performance declines, explore the reasons, particularly if signs suggest that a mental health problem may be involved. Katrina’s work performance was not satisfactory. Because the company had information from Katrina’s doctor and knew she had a mental health problem, they were able to avoid the performance management process.
  • Build rapport and keep in contact with employees with mental health problems. In this case, the HR manager made an effort to build a rapport with Katrina and kept in contact with her to support her and check on her progress. Because of this, she became aware that Katrina was not in treatment and was able to engage a rehabilitation provider to help with this.
  • Engage rehabilitation providers to assist with rehabilitation and recovery from mental health problems. Managing mental health problems can be time consuming. If it is possible, engage a rehabilitation provider as they can be very helpful in assisting with this process.
  • Make sure that the rehabilitation provider is someone who is acceptable to the employee so that a supportive relationship can be developed. Getting an employee into treatment and back to work is more likely if the relationships between employees and rehabilitation and other health providers are good.