SUMMARY: A workplace plan is a tool you can use to help figure out what changes you may need at work in order to be successful. It can be used to find what accommodations you may need, and also can be used when formal accommodation is not happening, but when workplace issues are hard to resolve.

Accommodation is a human rights issue for employees with disabilities and requires the employer to make adjustments to policies, rules, requirements and/or the built environment to ensure equal opportunities, access and benefits at work. Reasonable accommodation means that the employer will take steps to allow employees with disabilities including mental illness to do their job. Read more about the duty to accommodate.

If you have a disability, including a medical condition such as depression or anxiety, that requires a formal accommodation, go to http://www.mentalhealthworks.ca/wti/accommodations for more information about how to request an accommodation. What follows is a process to help you figure out what changes you may need at work in order to be successful. It can be used to find what accommodations you may need, and also can be used when formal accommodation is not happening, but when workplace issues are hard to resolve.

To see a sample workplace plan that has been used successfully by an employee, and to learn more about the process, go to Develop a Workplace Plan The workplace plan that has been provided is courtesy of Mindful Employer Canada.

A workplace plan is a document that helps you identify what you need to be successful at your job. It is not a legal contract, but is actually a request from you to your employer asking for reasonable changes that will allow you to be successful at your job. It helps because as you develop it, it puts your suggested solutions "on paper" and gives you and your manager a way to discuss your needs. Other people could help you develop this plan including your manager, human resources representative, occupational health nurse or doctor, your union representative, or even a trusted co-worker.

This plan can be an informal way to move forward through workplace issues whether you are at work or returning to work. It is recommended that if you are returning to work, it be done gradually, allowing you to build up your strength and confidence as you get back up to speed.

Ideally, you would work together with your manager to develop your workplace plan. It does not supersede any existing company policies, collective bargaining agreements or legislation. It is developed in good faith with the intention of having you be successful at work while maintaining a balance between productivity and health. Your manager may not know how to help you. This process can give your manager ideas that are right for you.

It is suggested that you and your manager review your workplace plan regularly to see if any changes need to be made to ensure your continuing success at work.

The workplace plan process

The following process is used in a variety of circumstances ranging from everyday issues to complex return-to-work planning. We are sharing this with you to give you a process to help yourself and help your manager to better support your success at work.

The plan asks you to answer three questions:

  • What do you need to be successful at your job?
  • How do you want future issues to be addressed, should they arise?
  • For your contribution to being successful at your job, what will you commit to?

Help your supervisor help you
Help your supervisor help you

WHAT DO YOU NEED TO BE SUCCESSFUL AT YOUR JOB?

Consider what you think of as problems at work. We've given you some ideas and examples below. Also consider what you expect your manager to identify as problems. Then come up with possible reasonable strategies that you and your manager can discuss to meet your needs and the needs of the workplace. The examples show possible solutions. Your situation may require different solutions. These examples are not the only solutions, just ideas to stimulate your own thoughts.

  • The way work is assigned
    An employee who is struggling with competing demands at work and last-minute requests from his manager may write in his workplace plan:

    "I understand the need to be flexible around last-minute client requests. Last-minute requests that interrupt my other tasks may cause me to feel overwhelmed because I am then unable to finish my other tasks on time. When my manager asks me to take on a last-minute task, I will ask my manager to help me prioritize my other tasks."

  • The way your work is monitored
    An employee who would describe their manager as a "micro-manager" causing distress:

    "I understand my manager's need to monitor my work for quality and accuracy. When my manager interrupts my work to make changes several times a day, I become agitated and lose focus and confidence in my abilities. I would like to be able to give my manager regular updates with a schedule that works for both of us. And I would like my manager to wait until our scheduled meeting to give me feedback or make changes, unless the issue is urgent."

    A different person may welcome the immediate feedback. Another employee may request to have feedback given in writing.

  • The way information and direction is given to you
    An employee who has difficulty remembering verbal instructions:

    "I prefer to have instructions about my tasks given to me in writing. Or, they can be given to me verbally and I will immediately write down what I've heard, and check back with the person who gave me the directions to make sure I've got it right."

  • The way others interact with you
    An employee who regularly cries at work:

    "I would like to have people at work not worry or react if they see me crying. I would like them to just allow me a few minutes to compose myself. If this happens during a meeting, I will excuse myself and return as soon as I am able to participate calmly in the meeting."

Additional ideas for dealing with stress at work:

  • Planning for them
    When you know that you may become emotional, plan in advance how you will manage tears, frustration or anger in a way that preserves your dignity and well-being.

  • Writing it down
    When you write down your fears, hurts or concerns, they often lose their power over you. Writing it down can put things in perspective so that you can find a way forward.

  • Talking about it
    Find a trusted person or professional to share what you are feeling. Talking about things is often the first step to taking back control of your thoughts, emotions or feelings.

  • Paying attention to what works
    When you have successfully dealt with a stressful situation or emotion, record what you did both as a reward for your success and to refer to when you are not sure what to do. Acknowledge when you take a step in the right direction.

  • Finding a friend
    Having someone at work who understands what you are going through can be an important source of support. If this is not possible, find a friend outside of work whom you can call when you need support.

  • Taking a break
    Use your breaks to go for a walk, find a quiet place to sit or otherwise relax and refocus. Do not work through breaks and lunch when you are stressed.

  • Breathing
    When we are stressed or anxious our breathing tends to become more shallow. This sends a message to the brain that there is a risk of dying from lack of oxygen, which in turn creates a stress response. Breathing deeply and slowly goes a long way to help your body to return to a less stressful state.

HOW DO YOU WANT FUTURE ISSUES TO BE ADDRESSED, SHOULD THEY ARISE?

You can help your manager by anticipating where you may have difficulty, and giving concrete suggestions on what to do. Here are some examples.

  • If you appear to be distressed or unwell

    “If I appear to be angry with a raised voice, I would like my manager to say to me: ‘I notice you seem uneasy. Would you like to continue this discussion at another time?’”

  • If there is a performance issue that needs to be addressed with you

    "If my manager notices that the quality or quantity of my work is dropping, I would like my manager to send me an email, asking to speak with me about the specific tasks that she is worried about. Receiving the email will give me time to collect my thoughts before we meet to discuss the problem and knowing which specific task is the problem will help me prepare."

    Another person may have a different request for the same situation:

    "If my manager notices that the quality or quantity of my work is dropping, I would like my manager to speak to me face-to-face as soon as possible, saying: 'I've noticed changes in your work and I'd like us to find a time to talk about it'. I would prefer that my manager not send me an email about it because that will just increase my anxiety."

  • If there is conflict

    "When my manager and I experience conflict between us, I ask that we both refrain from speaking in anger. We may need to request to discuss the issue at another time when each of us is calm enough to have a civil conversation."

FOR YOUR CONTRIBUTION TO BEING SUCCESSFUL AT YOUR JOB, WHAT WILL YOU COMMIT TO?

Sharing what you will do to be successful at work shows your manager that you are engaged in the process and gives you strategies that are specific to your needs. Here are some examples:

  • An employee who often feels groggy and unwell in the morning and avoids calling his manager

    "I will make every effort to let my manager know if I am going to be late because I understand that not knowing where I am is disruptive to my manager's day."

  • An employee who has had emotional outbursts at work

    “I will make every effort to control my emotions at work. If I feel that I am not able to maintain my composure, I will remove myself from the workplace for a few moments until I feel in control of my emotions. I will leave a note on my chair so that people know where I am."

  • An employee who doesn't take breaks or lunch

    "Every morning and afternoon I will leave my desk to take a break for 15 minutes. I will also take a break at lunch away from my desk. Taking these breaks will help me keep a healthy perspective on my work."

  • An employee who gets caught up in work and misses counseling appointments

    "I will leave work to go my scheduled counseling appointments, knowing that attending my appointments contributes to my ability to do my job well."

Thinking about and offering solutions, instead of focusing on problems, is often an effective way to move forward toward a better working situation.

How can I cope better at work?

For further help with accommodation, you may want to download and share Supporting Employee Success with your employer so they can help you create an effective plan.

Helping others help you at work

Reaching out for help may feel uncomfortable, but when you are struggling at work, this may be necessary for your well-being.

The following are some ideas that may make it easier for others at work to help you.

  • Making requests based on what you need rather than focusing on what you think others are doing wrong
    For example, instead of saying to your manager: "You need to stop criticizing me all the time."

    You might try: "I am in a place right now where I am having a really hard time dealing with criticism. I'm working on building my confidence. Would you be willing to give me specific direction on what you'd like me to do, rather than focusing on what I am doing wrong?"

  • Helping people to understand your reaction
    If you are finding yourself reacting to workplace situations with anger, frustration or by crying, you can help your co-workers by giving them information about your reaction.

    For example, you might try telling them: "I know I may overreact in certain situations. I am working hard to increase control of my emotions. Please know that my reaction is not about you."

    Another example: "When I am pressured to work faster and can't spend time on the quality of my work, I may become upset and start crying. I'm working hard to manage my reaction, but sometimes I won't be able to completely prevent it. Please ignore my tears."

  • Asking for help with deadlines
    Rather than waiting until the last minute and missing the deadline, let your manager know when you are struggling to get things done.

  • Dealing with gossip
    Sometimes the best way to deal with this is to counter with "positive gossip". This means talking about what people have done right or well.

Asking for Help at Work

There are people at your workplace you may be able to go to for help. Here are some suggestions you may use to help these people help you.

Talking to your manager

  • These are the things that are a problem for me right now and here are some ideas for what might make it easier for me to do my job. Can you look at them and let me know what is possible?
  • Can we book some time to talk about my work performance? I'd like your input on how I can better manage my time, prioritize tasks, etc.
  • Can you please let me know if you notice any changes in my performance so that we can talk about it?

Talking to your union representative

  • I am having a really hard time with some issues at work. What does the collective agreement say about this?
  • I don't think that I am being treated fairly by my co-workers and manager. What are my rights as a union member and who should I talk to?
  • What other ideas do you have about how I might resolve this or make it easier?
  • How can I deal with the reaction of other workers?

Talking to an occupational health physician or nurse

  • This is how I am feeling at work right now. Do you think it is health related? Do I need to make changes at work?
  • What do you recommend that I do? What help is available?
  • My family doctor has me on this treatment. Could you look into this and let me know of any other approaches you think could be helpful?

Talking to a human resources representative

  • What does my extended health benefit plan cover?
  • What is involved in applying for short or long term benefits?
  • What other benefits does my employer offer?
  • I am struggling to do my job well. What is available to me in terms of training or resources?
  • What do our company policies say about accommodation or discipline?

Talking to a counselor through your Employee Assistance Plan (EAP)

  • How can I deal with problems with my co-workers or manager?
  • What can I do about my financial troubles?
  • What can I do about my family issues?
  • How can I cope with my stressors at work or at home?
  • Where can I get help for my addiction?
  • How can I get help to deal with my fear, anger, frustration, lack of energy, etc?

This content was developed in collaboration with Mental Health Works and Mood Disorders Association of Ontario.