Lydia is concerned about Marcus.

Marcus has always been a solid contributor on the team Lydia leads: He gets along well with his co-workers, smiles and is pleasant to everyone on the shop floor, always meets his performance goals and is quick to help out others. But something has changed. In the last month, Marcus has missed several days of work and started arriving late fairly consistently. His production has fallen under target, and he has been keeping very much to himself. He recently lost his temper during a team meeting and has seemed close to tears since. As his supervisor, Lydia wants to say something to him, but she doesn’t know if she should.

People leaders often struggle with managing employees when there seems to be a personal issue impacting job performance, especially when there could be an emerging mental health issue at play. They don’t want to pry, they don’t want to make things worse, and they certainly don’t want to end up counselling the employee. As a result, employees in trouble are left to deal with their issues themselves—and left unchecked—performance problems worsen.

Some variability in an employee’s productivity and performance over time is to be expected. However, if an employee has been demonstrating low productivity for a longer period of time, it could be a signal of a bigger issue. People leaders should watch for the following warning signs:

  • an increase in unexplained or casual absences;
  • unusual displays of emotion, overreactions or mood swings;
  • impaired job performance;
  • impaired concentration, judgment or indecision;
  • consistently arriving for work late or leaving early;
  • low energy or fatigue;
  • withdrawal from social contact; and
  • complaints of unexplained physical ailments, such as headaches or back pain.

Take action as soon as possible if you notice a pattern of the above behaviours. Open a dialogue with the employee expressing concern for their well-being without asking for personal information. Share your observations regarding their job performance and allow the employee to self-identify that a personal problem is having a negative impact on their work life and hindering their ability to effectively do their job.

If your organization’s benefits plan includes an employee assistance program (EAP), remind them that the EAP is available for them if they need it, and that anything discussed is confidential. If a performance improvement plan is necessary, ensure that your employee clearly understands what is expected of them at work, and participates in developing a plan for improvement. Attach a timeline to the plan and follow up with the employee on their progress.

If you feel overwhelmed or unsure of how to best help your employee, your HR team and/or EAP provider can be of support to those who lead people as well.

It’s important that the employee knows that they can discuss challenges they may experience with you, and that you’re there to support them. As you work through the plan together, make sure you provide the employee with realistic feedback, addressing any obstacles as they arise.

While the presence of these symptoms does not necessarily mean that your employee is experiencing a mental health issue, early intervention is a key step toward preventing a progression toward a significant absence or disability.

Being proactive and respectful, fostering an environment of open communication, and clearly expressing workplace expectations can provide an employee who is struggling with a personal issue the support and framework to get through their challenge and get the help they need.

Kim Siddall is a vice-president and local practice leader at Aon. She has more than 20 years of experience in the health and benefits industry. These are the views of the author and not necessarily those of Benefits Canada.
Copyright © 2020 Transcontinental Media G.P. Originally published on

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Barb Hinger:

Wondering why some of my clients’ Manulife coverage, does not cover my counselling services? I’ve been a Clinical Social Worker (MSW,RSW) and in full time practice for nearly 30 years.

Friday, July 04 at 1:58 pm | Reply

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