What to do when you're concerned about changes in an employee's behavior or performance
Employees may occasionally be less productive than usual or may disclose that they're stressed or going through a difficult time in their lives. They might even have a crisis or "meltdown" while at work.
As their manager or chair of the department, you may suggest that they visit with a therapist or mental health professional to assist them in meeting their challenges. Use the following resources to guide you through the process of referring troubled employees for support, whether to mental health therapist or other resources. Our team of mental health therapists are dedicated to supporting UK employees.
Note: If there's a highly distressing incident or disruption in the workplace, you can call mental health therapist for direction and support. If the incident involves direct or indirect threats or actual violence toward university property or other people, call 911 immediately.
5 steps to talking with them about it
Step 1: Observe employee behavior
Observe employees' behavior or recall recent behavior to see if you're spotting a pattern, not a single event. You are looking for changes — behaviors that deviate from the norm for that employee. It could be absenteeism, confusion, tearfulness, lowered job efficiency or deterioration of relationships. If you notice a pattern of changes, take the next step.
Step 2: Gather your thoughts
Organize your thoughts with the goal of eventually providing objective feedback to the employee. You want to identify things you can see with your eyes or hear with your ears. You should never diagnose or interpret any observable behavior — simply gather your thoughts about what specific changes you have seen or heard.
Step 3: Approach
Once you gather your thoughts, approach the employee and provide feedback based on the changes you have observed.
This step could be referred to as "holding up a mirror" because you're allowing the employee to see his or her behavior as others do. You could say something like the following:
"I'm concerned about you. I'm concerned about you as a person because I do care that you seem to be having some difficulties. I'm also concerned as a manager because there is work that needs to be done. Here are some things I've noticed over the past couple of weeks (days)."
As you state the examples of things you've noticed, you may want to give this feedback similarly to the following statement:
"You've been returning late from lunch for the past three days. Over the past week, you've been tearful on four separate occasions that I've observed. You've had lengthy and sometimes loud personal telephone conversations. When you've been asked to perform routine tasks in a timely manner, you became upset and ran out of the office slamming the door behind you."
Step 4: Refer
In this step, you are referring the employee to mental health therapist or other resources for help with personal concerns so that you and the employee can remain focused on work-related issues.
An example of how you might say this is:
"These sorts of behaviors are not like your usual behavior. I'm concerned there may be personal issues that are affecting your ability to stay focused on your work. I’d like to give you this information about mental health therapist (or other resources). You can consider speaking with a trained therapist about any issues impacting your life. It's confidential, you can speak with them during work hours, and you'll be talking with people who have the training and skills to help. They can help you with any personal concerns, and you and I can work together to make sure the work gets done."
If you'd like, you can ask employees to bring you a letter documenting that they've visited or spoken with some resource or office on the phone. The mental health therapists won't share any of the information they discussed with employees due to confidentiality, but the letter will document that the employee has seen or spoken with a counselor at our and you can use the letter for time-keeping purposes if necessary.
Step 5: Follow Through
Now that you've done the hard part, remember to follow through with your employees' status and progress. If you refer people for services but don't follow through with clarification of performance expectations, employees will deduce that you aren't serious about work performance issues. By providing clarity of expectations and increasing structure or face time during a difficult period, you can support employees in their work responsibilities while other services assist them with their personal concerns.
When mental illness affects employees at work
Support is available. If an employee shares with you they have an illness affecting them at work, please refer them to The Office of Institutional Equity and Equal Opportunity. The role of this office is to discuss possible accommodations through the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).