Turning around a problem employee with a mental health issue

The Australian workplaces have estimated a cost of some $11 billion per annum related to untreated mental health issues.  I asked Michael Hempseed of Employee Solution Service (ESS) what he suggested could be done about this in NZ.

Do you want to turn a problem employee into a dream employee?

Sooner or later every employer will face the dreaded “problem employee”. They may be no more than a minor irritation or someone who can bring a company to its knees. Most managers see only two options: put up with the problem or dismiss them. But best is a third option: turn them around.

In order to turn someone around you first need to understand what is really happening. In most cases a problem employee is not a bad employee at all.

For example, one woman ESS helped was working in a warehouse where she did almost nothing all day. Her manager was becoming more and more frustrated with this employee; customer orders were being delivered late; and other staff were feeling the burden of her lack of productivity. The manager thought he would have to fire her but this would be very costly, from the time and lost production through standard disciplinary procedures, to the cost of recruitment and retraining a replacement.  

But ESS discovered that she had high anxiety and had been badly affected by the Christchurch earthquakes. Consequently she had a problem with enclosed buildings that did not have an exit and she was working in the very back of the warehouse. When moved from the back of the warehouse, where she felt trapped, to the front of the warehouse where there was an exit she became one of the best employees the company had! By looking at and treating the real causes of her poor performance she was turned around.

A surprisingly large number of problems at work are caused by unrecognised or unmanaged mental illness. Almost everyone understands a physical illness ... if someone has a cold or a broken leg we give them time off work and we understand. But when someone has a mental illness we hear phrases like “toughen up”, “just get over it”, or “drink some concrete and harden up”!

This is because people don’t understand what is really happening with a mental illness.   There are physical changes that happen in the body, when someone develops depression or anxiety, that change how a person acts and behaves. Outward signs of depression include crying, but also anger and irritation, lack of motivation and lack of energy. And anxiety is often linked with aggression. So Depression and Anxiety, the most common mental illnesses, are two of the most debilitating and can easily turn a great employee into a problem employee.

However these conditions are not usually considered chronic and in most cases, with the right help, can be improved significantly.

Michael Hempseed of The Employee Solution Service (ESS) specialises in identifying mental health reasons for an employee underperforming, and then working with the managers, other staff and the employee to bring about a positive outcome for all involved.  

If in doubt call Essential HR to help ensure you follow the best process in your situation and I can link you up with ESS where appropriate.

Need help managing staff?

Mike has a wealth of experience advising on every aspect of the employer-employee relationship. I can give you per-phone guidance or work along side you to make things happen.

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