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The National Alliance on Mental Health states that 25% of people are battling some form of mental health. That means that 25% of your workforce is battling mental health… Possibly one in four of your employees is struggling with a mental illness, such as:

  • Depression
  • Schizophrenia
  • Bipolar Disorder
  • Etc.

When it comes to the health of your workplace, you may not have even realized that a high percentage of your team are dealing with a mental illness.

The awesome part is that they are dealing with it… For example, if they are on top of their condition, they are taking medication, seeing doctors and therapists, getting good sleep, eating well, etc. But, if they are in denial about their mental illness, they may not be as proactive to take care of themselves.

You need to be aware of this because if they aren’t taking care of themselves, it may be causing workplace issues. For example, you could have an employee who is dealing with depression and doesn’t get the right amount of sleep, so when they’re at work they could be falling asleep in staff meetings or at their desk. It’s not a laziness factor, it’s an illness related factor.

What makes mental illness more difficult is that often you can’t see that the person has a mental illness. When someone is blind, deaf, or in a wheelchair, it’s obvious to observe they that have a disability, but if it’s mental, you can’t easily pick up on their needs.

Because such a high percentage of people are dealing with a mental illness, I recommend that you look for a way to know how to best help those employees who may be struggling with the symptoms. Legally, you can’t just ask an employee if they are bipolar or depressed… You could get sued for asking, so don’t go there. But, you can have open dialogue with them about expectations and boundaries.

For example, you may have an employee who is always irritable and is known for “barking” at other employees. But, maybe that same employee is a brilliant engineer and makes a big impact to the success of your company’s product and delivery to clients.

Don't get frustrated with employees... Instead find out what's going on to lead to their bad behavior.

Don’t get frustrated with employees… Instead find out what’s going on to lead to their bad behavior.

Don’t get mad at them, rather seek to understand what is going on.

If you notice they are “barking” at other employees for what seems to be no reason at all, you could have a one-on-one conversation with that employee. Here are some suggestions for having an effective conversation:

  • Time: Please make sure you allow a lot of time for the conversation. Don’t try to just fit in a quick 15 minute meeting. Rather, set aside an hour and really unplug from everything else that’s going on in the company.
  • Location: If you’re in a busy office with many interruptions, this conversation won’t take on the air of concern, so please be sure to put yourselves in a place to have an honest and open conversation. Maybe it’s better to take them out of the office and get them to relax.
  • Facts: Talk about the facts of the situations and don’t get into the “feelings”. Feelings are a grey area and can lead to misunderstandings, so I encourage you to keep the focus on the facts.
  • Starting the conversation: Open up the conversation with being honest with him or her. Let the team member know that you’re worried about them and want to see them succeed, but something needs to change. Talk about concerns from other staff members and your concerns as the leader – remember to keep it focused on the facts.
  • Set up next-steps: As the leader, it’s important that you set up effective next-steps for the employee to have success. You don’t want to lose a good contributor, but you need him or her to play well in the sand box. Always end with a follow-up meeting scheduled that works for both of your schedules. And no matter what, do NOT reschedule that meeting.

Ultimately, there’s a lot you can do as a leader to help your team members, but you don’t have to do everything. They are responsible for their own lives. Help them with expectations, guidelines, encouragement, and clearly defined consequences. Those pieces will give you and the team member a piece of mind as you move forward towards a more effective working relationship.

How have you supported an employee with a mental illness?