Q. As an employer, how do you know the difference between poor work ethic and a mental health problem?
A. When an individual is experiencing a personal crisis or a mental health problem in the workplace, the signs are often overlooked. As adults in the workforce, we know that the rule of thumb with personal problems is that you leave them at the door when you come to work. This can be difficult when someone is going through a personal crisis and isn’t coping well. What might appear to be a “bad attitude” or “laziness” may in fact be a sign that your co-worker is in crisis.
How do I go about approaching the employee to get help? As Employers we are careful not to get too personal with our employees. In the same regard our employees often don’t feel comfortable confiding in their supervisor. This can create a challenge when trying to get to the bottom of what is going on. The stigma of having a mental health problem could cause employees to deny there is a problem for fear they might lose their job. It is important to express to the individual that you are concerned, give examples of what you have witnessed or what has been brought to your attention and offer assistance.
Here’s what that might look like: Carl has worked for the company for 10 years and has been a model employee. You have noticed that in the past six months he has been missing work more than usual, and during the staff meetings he doesn’t speak much except to complain. He used to be so positive and creative.
Now he often says things like, “I just can’t take this anymore.” As his supervisor you think that maybe Carl just doesn’t like his job anymore, but you feel that maybe there is something more going on. You decide to talk to him about it.
Employer:“Hey Carl, I brought you in here today because I have noticed some changes in your behavior here at work. You have called in three times this past month and when you are here you make negative comments. Are you unhappy with your job or is there something more going on?”
Carl:“I’m just going through a really tough time right now. My wife is talking divorce and I have been drinking a lot on the weekends. I am so angry all the time. I feel like a failure.”
Employer:“You have been a good employee Carl and I would like to support you through this tough time. I would like to refer you to talk to our EAP.”
Carl: “I would like to talk to someone because I feel like everything is falling apart, and I can’t take it anymore.”
What if Carl doesn’t want help? Continue to offer support and other resources.
What does it mean if my employee is displaying one or more of these signs? An individual displaying one or more of the above signs may be experiencing any number of mental health disorders, including but not limited to; anxiety, substance use, abuse, or depression. Any of these can be brought on by stress, financial hardship, divorce, trauma or physical illness to name a few. It is important to get the person help before the problem becomes a crisis and long term effects take place such as job loss, criminal charges or hospitalization.