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Extremely sensitive employee - how best to manage/support appropriately

(98 Posts)
milesandmilesandmileandmiles Thu 27-Jun-19 16:42:54

I hope this is an acceptable title.

We are a small company of eight staff. The employee in question has been with us 14 months nearly.

The quality of her work is absolutely fine, we have no issue in this regard. She's had quite a number of absences for physical issues and has also recently disclosed she suffers from severe anxiety and depression, for which she is having treatment. She's had some time off for this too and we've supported her and checked on her wellbeing.

She's extremely sensitive and can get upset very easily, and then this blows up into a drama. I don't think there's been a week in the last few where we've not had tears at some point at work.

An example would be yesterday where her line manger asked her not to use a new system until he himself was fully au fait with it and had transferred relevant information to it. Within five minutes, she was using the new system. When 'reprimanded' (for want of a better word), and after said line manager leaves the room, the tears flow and she tries to involve other employees. Which she tends to do if she feels 'slighted'

I was not at this incident, but line manager is now feeling he's treading on eggshells constantly. He did take her for a coffee and a chat this morning in the canteen and checked on her well being, but reiterated that she'd ignored a request that he'd given her. We've provided training for him in managing staff, which he's been happy to participate in. At no point has anyone had any issues before, he's an unbelievably affable chap!

She's pretty hard work in truth, and takes up a lot of our time. Other employees are starting to say things like 'why is everything such a drama' etc.

Are there any resources out there to help us all, she needs to be able to take instruction and accept criticism without being so sensitive. Am I coming at it from the wrong angle? More training for the rest of us? Is it us being insensitive?


milesandmilesandmileandmiles Thu 27-Jun-19 16:51:52

Another example might be that she was upset that, on the app that we use for employees to request absences, log holiday etc etc, one of her days of absence I'd marked the reason as 'mental health'. Which apparently, 'sounds awful'. I don't think it does, it sounds no worse or better than 'broken leg', it's just factual.

PicnicAtHangingRock Thu 27-Jun-19 17:02:55

Is the calendar app open for others to see? If it was, she has a point. You could just write “sick leave” or something neutral. It is really indiscreet to say “mental health” if her colleagues can see it. It might be factual but it is no more necessary or appropriate than entering “piles”, “diarrhoea” or any other ailment that one might rather keep private and not share with the whole workforce. If it is private and nobody else can see the entry then I still think it’s a bit unnecessary but not such a big deal.

milesandmilesandmileandmiles Thu 27-Jun-19 17:05:06

Only her and myself can see it, I would not be insensitive enough to have this kind of information available to anyone else. I had sent her home that day, as she broke down in the office and was unable to stop crying.

milesandmilesandmileandmiles Thu 27-Jun-19 17:06:47

But I accept your point and am happy to change it if appropriate.

Babyroobs Thu 27-Jun-19 17:18:44

She sounds like hard work but it does also sound like it is more than just being sensitive. I can identify a little as I often cry at work, usually out of frustration or feeling overwhelmed. It's horrible and embarrassing and I wish I didn't do it. I too suffer from anxiety and depression. Do you have an occupational health dept you can speak to , she may need some minor adjustments or extra help.

daisychain01 Thu 27-Jun-19 17:20:03

I agree with @PicnicAtHangingRock that you shouldn't have captured the specific reason for this person's absence. It needs to be a neutral, non specific reason. I don't think it was oversensitive of her to take issue with that. However, it sounds like you did it with not negative intent. A quiet apology from you would be appropriate and confirmation that you'll update records in more bland terms in future.

On the matter of them using the new system when expressly told not to, that is not acceptable, and they need to be coached in how to take instructions on board and quickly execute them (including an instruction not to do something).

It sounds like their anxiety and sensitive nature is coming to the fore here, but it should not exonerate them from executing their duties correctly, and having the ability to take feedback on board in a less personal way.

Could you recommend a short course in resilience? Put supportively and positively, it may be helpful for her "ongoing development to deal with challenging situations"

daisychain01 Thu 27-Jun-19 17:24:07

as she broke down in the office and was unable to stop crying

She may have felt shame, as anxiety and MH challenges can be stigmatised at work (depending on the workplace culture)

The deed is done, hopefully lesson learned. I'm sure the situation isn't irretrievable and you can move things forward positively.

picklemepopcorn Thu 27-Jun-19 17:30:50

I find it helpful sometimes to preface things with a kind of 'trigger warning'.

'You won't like me saying this, but I needed you to do that faster'

'I hope you won't be upset, but you shouldn't have used that programme when I asked you not to'.

'I don't want to upset you, but you have made a mistake with this task'.

It just warns her and helps her prepare emotionally for what is coming, also recognises her feelings.

milesandmilesandmileandmiles Thu 27-Jun-19 17:35:37

We have looked into an occupational health assessment, to support her. For both her anxiety and depression and her physical issues (back). We simply can't afford it as a small business unfortunately, we were talking hundreds of pounds without the cost of any adjustments.

That said, we've adjusted her working area, let her have flexible time for doctors appointments without docking pay and have now ordered her a specific ergonomic chair (a new one, she had one with a back support but it was a few years old).

We've paid her for her time off too, including three weeks at the start of her employment for a procedure. Contractually it's discretionary and after the last period of absence (she's had fours days in the last two weeks, works 17 hours a week), I've explained we'd have to pay SSP only.

milesandmilesandmileandmiles Thu 27-Jun-19 17:38:51

Thanks, those suggestions about how to word things sensitively are so useful. I guess that's what we are struggling with, how to support but ensure the job gets done, we are too small a company to carry too much in terms of absence.

Point also taken re noting absences.

milesandmilesandmileandmiles Thu 27-Jun-19 17:41:39

I can honestly say we've supported the anxiety and emotional responses. We quickly take her into another office and let her talk if she needs and then give her a cigarette break to gather herself. Indeed we let her go home if required.

FriarTuck Thu 27-Jun-19 17:43:24

You deserve a medal OP...... 'extremely sensitive'? I don't think that's how I'd put it and I have anxiety & the works.

DontPressSendTooSoon Thu 27-Jun-19 17:46:51

Are you sure she's not using the tears yo manipulate you OP? As in, if I cry they'll focus on the crying/how upset I am and not the issue.

She may be doing this completely subconsciously btw!

MilkTwoSugarsThanks Thu 27-Jun-19 17:52:04

Honestly OP? You've got 10 months left to get rid of her.

I realise she has mental health issues, but if you're not careful it won't be long 'til the rest of your team develop them from having to accommodate hers.

Yes I suffer from depression (diagnosed & medicated). Yes I suffer from anxiety (diagnosed & medicated). No I do not have the right to bring other people down because of it.

Bluntness100 Thu 27-Jun-19 17:53:43

Hang on. The system was only accessible to thr woman and the op, there was no issue in writing it was due to mental health.

And being mentally ill does not render one stupid and unable to follow simple instruction.

You've got a problem employee on your hands. Yo need to talk to her straight. Inform her you will support, but that she is expected to follow instructions and not involve other employees as she is or disrupt the office. If the behavuour continues you will need to move to disciplinary. She can't simply ignore her manager like that.

It's unfair on him and the other employees. If she is unable to manage in the workplace she can go long term sick or resign. But it's not right to let her get away with this shit and put other employees and the manager in this position. You need to be fair to all staff

And she's taking thr piss.

madeamistake234 Thu 27-Jun-19 17:56:05

I am little bit like your employee but not quite as extreme. I think that if she has issues with depression and anxiety, then she may be failing to differentiate between everyday feedback that she needs to take on board in order to develop and improve in her role and you expressing a concern about some sort of serious performance issue that would lead to her being let go.
If she has been there 14 months, then she was clearly good enough to satisfy the requirements of the probation period so perhaps remind her of that and the fact that everyone gets lots of feedback in the early stages of their career. Maybe let her know that if you had any serious concerns, then you wouldn’t be discussing them in the office or in a routine email.
Anxiety may also be making her think that everything needs to be perfect on her first attempt. Possibly saying something like “I would only be concerned if I had explained X task to you five times before and you were still not getting it right, but no one expects you to be perfect at everything first time” might help ease her anxiety.

Magenta82 Thu 27-Jun-19 17:57:10

The thing with any kind of disability is that you have to make "reasonable adjustments" to help, but that she has to actually do the job. Part of any job is taking feedback, she can get upset, but she can't make that your problem.

Having other employees constantly walking on eggshells worrying that they will upset or wondering what the next drama will be is not "reasonable" and you would be fine to have a discussion with her about professional behaviour and how she is affecting the others around her.

Supersimpkin Thu 27-Jun-19 17:57:41

I can't see she's in a fit state to be at work, and I don't reckon you do either.

The drain on the business is growing, meantime.The changes you make for her only have to be 'reasonable' and you may be running out of options. As well as keeping a note of her various behaviours, start a list of how each incident is impacting the business.

Talk to Acas.

Spookydot Thu 27-Jun-19 18:12:19

I have anxiety and depression, and I have never cried at work, I am capable of taking criticism at work especially if I have done something wrong. (I may stay awake thinking about it all night long though!)

Most company’s have a sickness policy, mine for example is no more than three instances of sickness in a rolling year.

WeaselsRising Thu 27-Jun-19 18:14:58

As someone with anxiety and depression, who did used to cry at work in sheer rage after a great deal of bullying, I think you've gone above and beyond and she is taking the piss.

You've made reasonable adjustments for her, allowed her more time off sick than anyone else, and are actively supporting her. You really can't do any more.

What is she doing herself to resolve her MH issues? Is she on Meds? Having counselling? Somebody needs to have a chat with her to find out if she is actually trying to help herself. If she isn't, then the next sick absence should be on a warning. All that is going to happen is the other staff will get resentful and it will sour the whole workplace.

CellularBlanket Thu 27-Jun-19 18:16:10

My advice would also be to think about how you would get rid of her.

You have been very supportive - and that is good - but you cannot possibly keep up this level of "support" - and you are not doing her any favours if you continue to allow this.

I have MH issues and have struggled at work. In the end though at work it's not just about the individual. She has to learn to handle difficult situations and that people pay you to do stuff. Support is one thing but at this rate she is costing you money. You are a business and a small one at that.
Not fair on everyone else, on the clients, on the other staff, on the owners, on all those who so struggle with their MH but have to cope regardless.
(Also watch out for discrimination issues should this go further. Discrimination against her (MH) but also possibly against other members of the team if they are constantly being put in difficult position/ at centre of a drama by her.

MilkTwoSugarsThanks Thu 27-Jun-19 18:30:31

Also OP, I think @DontPressSendTooSoon has got a good point.

Tears and tantrums at work are more the realm of a manipulative narc than a person with depression/anxiety.

CuriousaboutSamphire Thu 27-Jun-19 18:42:10

Oh ye gods!

Call ACAS. Get as much help from them as possible.

You have bent over backwards. The 'mental health' note was entirely appropriate as it was between you and her, you do know why she is ill, so does she! Her absences may well cause the kind of strain that drowns a small compnay. ACAS can help you there too!

As it is I have no idea why you have not just let her go. Many small companies are too 'nice', personally involved in such cases. A larger corporation would have P45d her months ago.

Best of luck sorting it all out.

Myusernameismud Thu 27-Jun-19 18:46:36

I have worked with 2 other women who had mental health issues which affected them in the workplace. One employee would quietly excuse herself, have a little cry in the toilets and then get on with her day. The other would audibly wail and sob, and then insist she needed to go home. It was an almost daily occurance. She had form for being difficult and it became clear that she was being manipulative. We had a male Headteacher then, and he didn't know how to deal with her when she was crying so he'd just agree to send her home.

It can be very difficult to distinguish between what is mental health related behaviour and what is merely difficult behaviour, and I'm afraid I have no tips on how to tell, but do remember that having MH issues doesn't mean that someone is allowed to not do their job properly, or make others jobs difficult.

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