Effective workplace communication with employees with psychiatric disability
- Implementation guide
- Psychiatric disability
- Talking about talking and listening
- Talking about learning
- Talking about the job
- Talking about tools
- Talking about safety
- Talking about quality and quantity
- Talking about teams and workmates
- Talking about problems
- Talking about changes
- Talking about futures
Talking about problems
Developing problem-solving skills will assist supported employees to participate effectively in the workplace.
Identifying when a problem exists, and then solving it, is often very difficult for employees with psychiatric disability. Mental illness will frequently set up barriers to thinking logically. The employee may:
- have great difficulty concentrating and avoiding distractions
- become overloaded when faced with information that is complex or varied
- have difficulties because of the stress involved in dealing with anything new or different
- be unable to interpret social interactions correctly and therefore misunderstand communicated information
- be unable to generate alternative approaches to situations
- become frustrated easily
- lack initiative and motivation to address issues.
Any one or a combination of these factors will make problem solving and decision making extremely hard for the person. Support workers can assist employees with psychiatric disability improve their problem-solving skills by assisting them to:
- recognise when a problem exists
- take some responsibility for solving the problem
- learn problem-solving strategies.
Elliot has always been very concerned about his inability to attend regularly. The problem was discussed at his most recent planning meeting. Elliot said he has trouble 'getting moving' in the morning. He wakes up and wants to go to work but says he'll often find himself still in bed an hour later. The bus has long gone and he's got no way of getting to work. He says he feels 'really dopey and muddled' in the mornings and is better in the afternoons. At the meeting, Bob and Cara asked Elliot if he could think of a way of solving the problem. He couldn't think of anything at first.
I suppose I could get another alarm clock – one that is louder.
Do you think that would work?
No, not really, 'cause I hear the alarm. I just don't get up and get dressed.
Do you still want to come to work?
Yes – I need to work and I like it here when I get here.
Is there anything else that could be changed?
I don't think so ...
You say you feel much more awake and alert in the afternoons … right?
Yeah … I'm much better then. I take my dog for along walk and do the shopping and I've got plenty of energy.
So, do you think it might be easier to work in the afternoons?
Yeah … but my job starts at 8am.
From Fran's notebook
Elliot has moved over to do the evening shift at Space Cake. He starts at 3pm each day. He's been there a month now and hasn't missed a day, apparently. I'm really surprised. I thought he was just lazy when he was here. He's such a big, healthy-looking bloke and so capable. I always wondered why he said couldn't get himself organised. It seems that starting in the afternoons suits him better – something to do with his medication.
- Recognise and compensate for problems with thinking that interfere with a person's ability to recognise and solve problems. To compensate:
- present information in small chunks
- monitor thought processes with frequent questions
- encourage the employee to 'think aloud' (that is, they tell you what they are thinking or saying to themselves as they go about the task or consider the problem)
- develop 'standard' approaches to problem solving and apply them consistently when you are working with employees.
- Reduce distractions. The employee may be unable to 'filter' the important information that is needed to concentrate on the problem. You can minimise the resulting difficulties if you:
- keep tasks and steps brief and focused
- use frequent prompts (How many more do you need to do to fill the tray, Elliot?)
- redesign the work area to reduce distractions and clutter.
- Avoid overloading. Overloading can occur if the information that needs to be 'processed' to solve a problem is too complex or varied for the employee to cope with. It will help avoid this situation if you:
- limit the number of formats in which you present information and choose those that match the employee's literacy and language needs
- break the problem-solving task down into a number of steps
- develop a problem-solving strategy that the employee can learn to use in a range of situations.
- Reduce stress reactions which can interfere with the employee's understanding. Think carefully about how you present the problem situation, including:
- keeping the demands you make on the employee relatively low (Can you think of one thing that might be causing so many of these seedlings to wilt?)
- giving positive feedback as the employee contributes to the problem-solving process (You're quite right! We did have that really hot day last week and no-one reset the watering system. Let's check a few trays to see if the soil is dry.)
- being prepared to deal with anxiety (I agree we need to find out why they are wilting soon. I can see it's worrying you. But I'm sure we'll find out what is causing the problem and solve it before any seedlings die. Remember how quickly we worked out the problem with the potting mix last month?)
- allowing for time out for the employee (We've made great progress on this wilting problem this morning. Let's have a break from it now till after lunch. After morning tea we'll plant out the tomato seedlings.).
- Assist accurate interpretation of social interactions. Employees with psychiatric disability may be confused and distracted and misinterpret what people say or do. It is a useful strategy to:
- monitor thought processes by inviting the employee to 'think aloud'
- use written instructions as cues to reduce the impact of distractions
- role play and rehearse social interactions