Managing Team Members with Undisclosed Personal or Mental Health Issues

“Help! I have a staff member who doesn’t seem to be coping well in the office and has asked for my help but I don’t know what to do.”

As an HR Manager, I’ve had many managers come to me with this type of scenario. Managing staff can be a daunting experience. Sometimes it’s only when you find yourself in a challenging position that you wished you had paid more attention to all those management articles that went past your desk and you couldn’t find time to read.

So what should you do when you encounter a situation with a staff member who is having difficulties at work?

You absolutely need to talk to them but make sure you prepare for this as you want it to be a helpful conversation that opens a dialogue so a solution can be devised together.

Sometimes at these meetings, you may wonder if there’s a personal or mental health issue but your staff member isn’t at the point where they are divulging information about themselves. What can you do?

Every individual and circumstance is unique but here are some general guidelines:

1.    Don’t assume anything and don’t offer opinions or judgements

2.    It is critical to build trust in the relationship so the person feels comfortable having a conversation with you. At this point the more you know, the more you can assist with.

3.    The work still has to be done but can some of it be accomplished by others? Can you lighten the workload and make allowances for the circumstances in the short term?

4.    The staff member needs to feel secure and be assured that any information provided to you will remain confidential, in most circumstances.  If a situation is life threatening, then this takes precedence over any confidentiality and assistance must be sought immediately, but hopefully in most cases this won’t be something you are faced with.

Times when others may need to be involved…

–  It is critical to let the staff member know if you are seeking advice from others, BEFORE you do so. This helps build trust and provides transparency around your actions.
–    If work needs to be reallocated or shared, you may need to chat with the team but team members don’t necessarily need to know everything. Situations can be explained in general terms
–    If advice about management strategies is required, you could seek general advice from your HR Department or appropriate people within the organisation that can be trusted to provide sound advice
–    If the circumstances are time or situation critical, you could perhaps let your own Manager know some of the general details without breaching your staff member’s confidentiality. If the situation doesn’t allow for this, again ensure the staff member understands how this will be communicated before going ahead

5.    Sometimes you need to bend the rules and come up with new ways to assist a staff member – for example working from home, working part time, working different hours, time off when needed, purchased leave arrangements or different working arrangements. You may need support from others within the organisation to achieve this.

6.    Look after yourself and don’t try and do it all on your own. Seek support from your work counselling service if you have one, your HR Manager or someone you trust in or out of the workplace.

Helping staff to manage personal difficulties or mental health issues doesn’t need to be difficult. It can be rewarding to break down barriers and help provide solutions so staff feel valued and the work is still achieved.


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