Proper diagnosis and treatments for mental illnesses continue to get short shrift in America, and a circumstance of that is witnessing mental illness in individuals you might not expect. This may manifest in an employee working in your company who has a hidden mental illness that wasn’t apparent to you during the hiring process. While the employee had a right to not mention it as a barrier to employment, how do you confront an employee you suspect has a developing mental illness that could potentially affect employee or customer relations?
Understanding the Mental Illness
If you’re just guessing or know what the mental illness is your employee may be experiencing, you should read up on the illness and what the latest information is. Once you know the symptoms and how people typically react with the illness, you’ll be able to see things from the perspective of the employee and communicate with them respectfully. You’ll also get a better idea of what kind of help they may need to help amend the situation without it necessarily causing a termination of their job.
Finding Resources to Help Them Get Treatment
Eventually, you’ll have to call that employee in for a private meeting to discuss the signs of their mental illness and how concerned you are for their welfare. If it’s disrupting communications in the office, you should seek out any kind of mental health resources your company offers for some immediate assistance. With the American Disabilities Act protecting those with behavioral health disabilities, offering help is imperative or you may face lawsuits.
Ultimately, your company should offer an Employee Assistance Program that helps employees deal with certain personal issues that might be affecting their jobs. These can sometimes make a big difference in controlling a mental illness, depending on the severity of the condition.
Communicating Properly with the Employee
When you confront the employee about their mental illness, don’t make it sound like a liability to your company. Start out your conversation with praising what they’ve already done, especially if they have a good track record. Once discussion turns to the mental illness, you’ll want to do it in a calm and reassuring way that shows you care about the employee’s welfare. Some mental illnesses (e.g. PTSD) can flare up due to stress. If you make them feel stressed, you’ll only compound the situation.
Make it clear, however, that you don’t wish to intrude in your employee’s personal life. Many will be turned off by managers who pry into their personal lives, which is why you should limit any discussion about the mental illness to treatment through an assistance program. It’s important to treat the issue as a work performance issue rather than anything else and that you intend to do everything you can to help them.
In some cases, that might mean having to terminate their job if the mental illness is so disruptive that no other solutions can be done. This doesn’t mean you still shouldn’t offer an assistance program if they can’t afford or don’t seek other treatment. It has to be made clear, though, that any job termination is due strictly to job performance and not any personal biases.
It helps to know the employee personally so you can easier communicate with them to help bring support. That’s why when you hire, you should get to know all your employees so you can understand them when the time comes to talk about personal matters. But with diligence on understanding mental illness, you’ll already be doing better than our own government and helping mentally ill people receive the treatment they deserve to have.