March 7, 2019
An employee asks to talk with you in private for a few minutes. You’ve noticed something’s off. They’ve been distracted, their performance has declined. How would you respond?

As an employer, it’s your responsibility to help support them and get them back on track. Whatever the case, the two of you won’t be able to work on solutions until you have that first conversation.

“Many managers struggle with how to respond to an employee who may have a mental health issue,” says Workplace Safety & Prevention Services Consultant, Janet Carr. “You may be afraid of making things worse, or just not know what to do. It’s tempting to ignore the situation and hope it goes away, but early intervention is always better than waiting until a problem becomes more serious and more difficult to address.”

Here are some tips to help prepare you for sensitive conversations:

Know your responsibilities. Organizations are required by law to accommodate people with any type of diagnosed disability: physical or mental.

Understand your role. This involves recognizing when someone is behaving differently (being absent more than usual, less engaged, etc.), knowing what support and resources are available, having a conversation with the person, and exploring possible solutions together. You’re not expected to fix the problem, however it is important to accommodate employees.

Look at the situation from the perspective of accommodating an injury. Most workplaces already have a process in place for accommodating physical injuries. Explore how it could be applied to investigating and resolving a mental health injury.

Consider whether workplace conditions may be affecting the employees’ mental health. If one person is struggling, others may be as well. Effective managers create the best possible environment in which employees can perform to the best of their ability. This includes setting realistic goals, prioritizing tasks, providing clear communication, and saying thanks for a job well done.

Be proactive. Managers need to feel comfortable having these kinds of conversations so they can address issues earlier on, and steer people toward getting help. These skills can be learned and practiced.

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