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Suicide prevention employers’ duty of care

Staff reporter
07 September 2017 1 minute readShare

With R U OK Day around the corner, employers are being asked to get involved and reach out to workers who may be suffering from mental illness or distress.

According to employee assistance program AccessEAP, statistically there are more than eight deaths and 180 attempts at suicide each day in Australia.

“Many people who die by suicide show warning signs,” said AccessEAP CEO, Sally Kirkright.

“As a manager, you are in a unique position to be able to identify when a member of your team is struggling, so knowing what to look out for and where to find help if it is needed is crucial. While managers may feel overwhelmed by the perceived responsibility it brings, it is important to remember that there is professional help available.”

With R U OK Day happening on Thursday, 14 September, Ms Kirkright has the following advice for employers on how to approach this sensitive issue in the workplace:

1. Know your team

Ensure that you maintain regular contact with your team and get to know your employees. Greet them, have interactions with them. This helps develop important connections, but you will then also be in a position to notice if there are any changes in their behaviour. For example, withdrawal, irritability, unexplained absences or a drop in performance at work.

Such changes may be indicators that the employee is going through some emotional difficulty and finding it hard to manage.

2. Have a conversation if you are concerned

A simple conversation will clarify your concerns with the employee and may be a first step to helping them find support.

Make sure the conversation occurs in a discrete and private place. Be clear that you are concerned. Give specific examples. Ask “Are you okay?”
“Is something happening?” “Can I do anything to help?”

3. Listen

Listen to what the person is saying without interrupting. At the end, summarise what you have heard to check that your understanding is correct.

Do not make judgements or assumptions about what they have said. If you’re unsure about any comments they have made, clarify with an open question.

4. Explore options

The employee may indicate that there are issues at work or issues that could be helped by making some changes at work. In that case, you may wish to explore specific solutions.

Do not go into problem-solving about personal issues. Remember, you are their manager and not their counsellor. Offer empathy, but at the same time, know when to stop and offer professional help.

5. Know when to escalate

If an employee makes any hint about suicide, ask them directly: “Are you thinking about harming yourself?” Unless the answer is a direct and clear “No”, immediately escalate to another person for advice. Your options may include:

  • An existing support person, for example, their GP or family member
  • EAP manager support hotline
  • Lifeline on 13 11 14
  • Your local hospital if it’s an emergency
Suicide prevention employers’ duty of care
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