Getting support at work
If your mental health problem is impacting your working life, it can be tricky to know what to do. Fortunately, there are workplace support options available to help you.
On this page:
- Should I tell someone at work?
- How do I tell my manager?
- Asking for changes at work
- Taking time off work for your mental health
You may be considered disabled (as defined by section 2(1) of the Disability Discrimination Ordinance “DDO” – Disability Discrimination | CLIC) because of your mental health problem. If so, you have specific rights related to getting support at work. This support comes in the form of reasonable adjustments.
Should I tell someone at work about my mental health problem?
You may feel unsure whether to tell anyone at work about your ongoing mental health problem, or poor wellbeing. If you are comfortable with sharing, there are some benefits to doing so.
At first you might experience barriers like:
- not knowing who, when or how to tell
- being unsure of how much to share
- worrying about negative outcomes or reactions.
The possible benefits of talking about your mental health at work include:
- having a stronger basis for requesting support
- not having to hide difficulties you’re experiencing
- helping others open up about their experiences of mental health problems (if you choose to tell colleagues).
Telling anyone about your mental health is a personal choice.
However, if your mental health problem is considered a disability under the Disability Discrimination Ordinance, you have a right to reasonable adjustments. But to exercise this right, your employer must know about your disability.
Your employer will also need to know about your disability before you get protection for certain types of disability discrimination.
“Talking to my employer was very hard because of shame and confidentiality reasons, but I was surprised and felt much more supported and understood.”
How do I tell my manager?
If you want to tell your manager about your mental health problem, it can be hard to know where to start. To make the process easier, you could try the following suggestions:
- Arrange to talk to your manager privately. This could be during a regular catch up, or by requesting a one-to-one meeting.
- Think about what you’d like to say in advance. Write up some notes and bring them with you when you meet your manager.
- Create a Wellness Action Plan beforehand. This helps you think about your support needs and what keeps you well at work.
Asking for changes at work
To help you stay well and work effectively, you might need to change something about your environment or the way you work.
You can make some changes on your own. Others, such as reasonable adjustments, will require action or agreement from your employer.
If you have a diagnosed mental health problem, think about what changes would help the difficulties you experience. Your employer might refer you to an occupational health adviser for advice on how best to support you.
“My employer understands exactly what it is I’m going through. They help and support me any way they can. I’m one of the lucky ones.”
What are reasonable adjustments?
Reasonable adjustments are changes that an employer makes for an employee with a disability. This only becomes a legal duty if the employee is at a disadvantage in their work.
Your employer must make reasonable adjustments if:
- your mental health problem is a disability (as defined by the Disability Discrimination Ordinance)
• you experience difficulties or disadvantages at work because of your disability
• the adjustments would remove the difficulties or disadvantages you face
• it is reasonable in all circumstances to make the adjustments
- they know about your disability (this means you may have to tell your employer about your mental health problem).
Even if you’re not covered by the Disability Discrimination Ordinance, your employer should still support you within what is reasonable for your role.
What sort of changes can I ask for?
The changes you need will depend on the work you do and what you find difficult. You could ask to make changes such as the following examples:
- Using voicemail. You can take messages this way if answering phone calls makes you feel anxious.
- Communicating by email. If you feel stressed by face-to-face contact, use email where possible.
- Arranging flexible working. Flexible hours might suit your needs better. For example, this way you can attend medical appointments or start work later in the day.
- Requesting a quieter workspace. This can help if you find it difficult to concentrate at work.
- Working by a window or asking for a light box. You might want to make these changes if you have seasonal affective disorder (SAD) for example.
- Getting on-the-job support. This could be a workplace mentor, or permission to contact your support worker during work hours.
- Taking time out when distressed. Even just a few minutes away from your working space can help. You could go out for some air, or have a short rest.
If you need more help than reasonable adjustments, you may be able to get support from the Government. Find out more about the Support Programme for Employees with Disabilities (Social Welfare Department) scheme.
For ideas and tips on coping, read more in our self-care sections for different mental health problems.
Taking time off work
Taking time off for your mental health is just as valid as time off for physical health. If you’re too unwell to work, you need time to get better.
Even if you’re off for a while, it doesn’t mean you’ll never go back to work. Your employer should support you when you’re ready to return.
If you’re off work for more than seven days in a row, you will need a fit note from your family doctor or hospital doctor. In most cases, you’re entitled to sick leave from your employer.
For more information, see the Government information on taking sick leave: Labour Department – Frequently Asked Questions.