Managing Employees with Bipolar Disorder

What is Bipolar Disorder?

Bipolar disorder, also known as manic depression, is a mental health condition that causes significant shifts in mood, energy and activity levels. It affects up to 1% of the population in the UK and can significantly impact an individual’s ability to manage their emotions and relationships. People with bipolar disorder experience periods of either mania or hypomania – high-energy states in which they may feel excessively elated, impulsive, or irritable – and periods of depression where they feel low and lethargic.   

Managing employees with bipolar disorder requires understanding, awareness and compassion. While people with bipolar disorder are able to maintain employment, it can be difficult if employers do not provide adequate support.

It is important for employers to understand what bipolar disorder is and how it can impact individuals. Bipolar disorder is characterised by episodes of mania or hypomania, during which an individual will have increased energy levels and be unusually active. This can result in them engaging in risky behaviours such as substance abuse or gambling. During episodes of depression, individuals may experience difficulty sleeping, changes in appetite, feelings of worthlessness or guilt. In some cases, individuals with bipolar disorder may even experience episodes of psychosis where they hallucinate or have delusions.   

Employers should also consider how they can support employees with bipolar disorder while at work. By taking the time to understand what bipolar disorder is and supporting employees accordingly, businesses can create a more productive work environment while helping ensure their employees receive the care they need to manage their condition effectively.

How does Bipolar Disorder Develop?

Bipolar disorder can impact a person’s ability to function at work and in other areas of their life. Understanding how bipolar disorder develops can be key to managing employees with the condition successfully in the workplace.  

Bipolar disorder is thought to be caused by a combination of genetic and environmental factors. There is evidence that suggests genetics play an important role in the development of the illness, as individuals with family members who suffer from bipolar are more likely to develop it themselves. A variety of environmental stressors can also contribute to its onset; from traumatic events such as bereavement, financial difficulties, substance abuse, or social isolation.   

Symptoms typically begin during late adolescence or early adulthood, though may not become apparent until mid-adulthood. Common signs that may be present before diagnosis include changes in sleeping pattern, fatigue, difficulty concentrating, irritability and mood swings. As the condition progresses, manic episodes may start occurring; this is when symptoms such as increased energy levels, racing thoughts or talking excessively become noticeable.

Although there is no single cause of bipolar disorder, understanding how it develops is important for successful management in the workplace; employers should be aware of any potential risk factors associated with their employee’s mental health and wellbeing so that they can better support them through difficult periods. Early intervention has been shown to reduce the severity of symptoms over time which could lead to improved job performance and better overall outcomes for those affected by bipolar disorder.  

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How does Bipolar Disorder Impact an Individual’s Work?

Those with bipolar disorder may experience periods of manic behaviour where they become unusually talkative or active, often accompanied by impulsive decisions. During these episodes, they may work excessively, undertake several projects or trainings, be more prone to taking risks and make poor choices that could affect their job performance. Conversely, they may also suffer from low moods or depression which can lead to excessive absence from work or lack of motivation.   

Employers should be aware of the potential impacts of bipolar disorder so that they can support employees who may have the condition. This would include helping them to manage stress levels and create a supportive working environment. Flexible working arrangements may also help those with bipolar disorder to manage their symptoms and increase productivity as well as reducing the risk of burnout or absenteeism due to illness.   

Managing an employee who experiences bipolar disorder requires patience and understanding. For instance, some people may require regular breaks during the day while others may need extra rest after an emotionally stressful event or period of work. It is important for employers to keep communication open with staff who have bipolar disorder so that they can understand what adjustments could benefit them most in their role at work.   

It is essential for any organisation to ensure employees are provided with adequate support and guidance throughout their employment. Open communication between employer and employee will help create a culture where employees feel safe discussing any mental health issues they face in the workplace without fear of judgement or reprimand.  

Prioritising Empathy and Compassion

When managing employees with bipolar disorder, it is essential to prioritise empathy and compassion. Patience is also key as is working to working to understand bipolar better and the impact this can have on individuals.  

Having a comprehensive understanding of bipolar disorder is vital when managing such employees, particularly since this condition affects individuals differently and requires different treatments. Being aware of the employee’s medication regime and how it affects their behaviour can help managers adjust their expectations accordingly. Furthermore, regular communication and feedback sessions should be conducted in order to provide emotional support and ensure that the employee feels secure in their role.   

Managers should also aim to be proactive rather than reactive when dealing with employees who have bipolar disorder, as this allows them to anticipate issues before they occur. This could involve creating a detailed plan for responding to episodes so that everyone involved knows what to expect if one arises. Additionally, managers should ensure that all staff are educated about bipolar disorder so that everyone has an understanding of the condition and its effects on the workforce, which will help avoid any misunderstandings or discrimination.   

Finally, it is important for managers to remember that treating their employees with empathy and compassion does not mean excusing poor performance or unacceptable behaviour. Rather, it involves creating an environment where communication is open and judgment-free so that employees feel comfortable discussing any challenges they may be facing honestly. By doing this, managers can begin creating an inclusive workplace that caters for all types of mental health issues while providing crucial support for those affected by them.

Single Point of Contact

Employees with bipolar disorder can often benefit from having a specific person identified within the organisation who they can go to if they need additional support, such as occupational health professionals, job coaches or a line manage. This person should be someone who both understands and is willing to provide extra care and attention should it be needed. 

The employee should also have a say in whom this person is, as it is imperative that they feel comfortable with them. Providing regular check-ins with this person may help the employee to feel supported, adapt the workplace to suit them, and develop strategies for effectively managing any stresses at work.   

Flexibility when Supporting Staff with Bipolar Disorder

As an employer, it is important to be aware of the need to offer flexibility when supporting staff who have bipolar disorder in the workplace.   

Flexibility when managing employees with bipolar disorder is essential, as the nature of the condition means that symptoms can vary and fluctuate across time periods. A flexible approach to working hours or allowing for remote work may help employees manage their condition more effectively, while ensuring they remain productive in their role. Utilising leave policies such as sick days and extended leave are also key components of managing a bipolar employee in the workplace.  

This includes: creating policies that allow for time off work when necessary; offering psychological support from trained professionals; encouraging positive lifestyle habits such as regular exercise and healthy eating habits; supporting employees to attend health appointments; reducing potential workplace stressors such as long hours; making accommodations such as changes to deadlines or workloads where necessary; co-creating wellbeing plans that includes early warning signs to help you to recognise when your employee is showing signs of distress, and how you can help.  

It’s also important to create an environment where staff feel accepted and able to discuss their mental health and gain support so that they can be afforded the flexibility they need, without fear of judgement. Providing educational resources on bipolar disorder or investing in training for managers can ensure your organisation is equipped to support employees with bipolar disorder and actively show commitment to prioritising their wellbeing.

Reasonable Adjustments for Employees with Bipolar Disorder

As an employer, it is important to understand the challenges faced in the workplace by individuals with bipolar disorder, and to make reasonable adjustments to support their mental wellbeing.  

Reasonable adjustments for employees with bipolar disorder may include:  

  1. Flexible Working Hours: Bipolar disorder often affects energy levels, concentration, and productivity. Allowing employees to work flexible hours can help them manage their condition while still meeting deadlines. Employees may need additional breaks throughout the day or might benefit from being able to work from home when necessary.  


  1. Adjusting Deadlines: Rigid deadlines can cause stress for employees with bipolar disorder as they may struggle to cope with the pressure of meeting long-term goals. Employers should consider making short-term deadlines that are achievable instead of one large deadline that is difficult to manage in one go.  


  1. A Supportive Environment: An understanding workplace culture is essential for employees with bipolar disorder as they often experience stigma and discrimination in the workplace due to their condition. Employers should make sure that staff have access to mental health resources, and work to create a culture of acceptance for those dealing with mental health issues.  


  1. Open Communication: Dialogue between employers and employees about their mental health needs should be encouraged as it can help identify stress triggers or coping mechanisms that need extra support on either side. Open communication will also ensure that expectations are managed effectively so both parties remain aware of any changes in performance or output due to the employee’s condition.  


By taking steps towards creating an inclusive working environment, employers can help empower employees with bipolar disorder and foster a productive workplace where everyone feels safe and supported regardless of mental health status or other differences between them and their colleagues.  

Co-creating Wellbeing Plans for Staff with Bipolar Disorder

Employers who are managing employees with bipolar disorder must building an effective wellbeing plan, tailored to the individual’s needs and preferences, that takes into consideration the unique symptoms and challenges associated with bipolar disorder.   

When co-creating a wellbeing plan for a staff member with bipolar disorder, it is important to consider both proactive measures that can help maintain mental health stability as well as reactive measures for coping with manic or depressive episodes.   

Proactive measures should include regular check-ins between the employee and employer, where the employee can talk openly about their feelings and experiences without fear of judgement or repercussion. These one-on-one meetings should be scheduled at regular intervals throughout the year to provide clear communication channels and build trusting relationships. Support services available to the employee should be communicated clearly, whether mental health days, referrals for private therapy or an employee assistance programme as examples, so that the individual can access support preventatively.   

Co-creating wellbeing plans for more reactive strategies for in the event of the employee experiencing a depressive or manic episode can also be beneficial. A key component here is pre-agreeing what would be useful and beneficial in advance, whilst the individual is as well as possible. This can include agreeing whom would be contacted if the employer was concerned e.g. a trusted friend, relative or doctor; pre-agreeing how the manager can support in a way that is helpful and not disempowering or arising from panic.   

By taking a collaborative approach when co-creating a wellbeing plan for employees with bipolar disorder, employers can create an inclusive environment that prioritises mental wellness whilst maximising job performance of their staff members.

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