Managing depressed employee - what will help?

(38 Posts)
YowMyHead Fri 19-Feb-21 23:25:43

Hi all, I’d love ideas/advice/personal experiences regarding what I can do to help an employee who seems to be going through a low patch...

I’m about 1 year into a new company, and manage a small team - I’m relatively inexperienced in line management. We are all working from home due to pandemic

I’ve noticed one of my direct reports seems low/depressed, actually my own boss asked how she was and that brought it to my attention
- no longer working a full day
- less output/ work lower quality than usual
- seems low energy/not usual self
- change to usual appearance (greasy hair etc)
- irritable/argumentative

I think reasons are personal/family stress, and just too much 2020 as far as I can tell! Her partner has also lost his job. Normally she’s a superstar/high performer, and my only issue is she’s over competitive (esp vs me, her boss)

We work for a big multi national which has various programmes to support wellbeing/mental health

My question: I’d say this has been going on since maybe mid Dec but more noticeable last few weeks

My current tack:
- give a bit of space / not pile on pressure
- show compassion/relatability
- talk a lot about mental health support in company to whole team (to avoid singling out)

I’d like to understand what might help (I think it’s very understandable!), how to get performance back if possible, and sad to say, where I need to start worrying about covering my own butt if performance really slides

This is not a company where people take sick leave/get signed off, and this person is more the type to pretend everything is perfect

Please can anyone share any suggestions of what I can do to help - personally, and to stop performance sliding downhill:what has worked, and anything that has felt unhelpful

As of now, I plan to tell my own line Mgr that I have a concern and will be monitoring it... no idea what comes after that!

OP’s posts: |
anascrecca Fri 19-Feb-21 23:36:54

My manager is quite a taskmaster but very understanding about all life's pressures. At our 1:1s there is always a section on Wellbeing and also on how I'm finding the job at the moment. She tells me what I've done well and if there's anything I need help with she will support where she can. It's a good balance as I feel like I'm getting support while still being encouraged to perform my best and contribute to the team. I think expecting less than an employee's full role might lead to low self esteem about work but it depends on the person and how low they are feeling I think. I've felt quite low during lockdown and it has affected my motivation with everything. You sound like a thoughtful manager.

LouiseTrees Fri 19-Feb-21 23:37:23

I think you need to start with a conversation about her drop in performance (one on one) and ask if there is anything you can do to help and even compliment how amazing she usually is. Use the Samaritans website tools for having difficult conversations.

YowMyHead Fri 19-Feb-21 23:42:20

@anascrecca: thank you for your comment, which has given me something to think about

I think making a point to say what’s been done well is good - I try to do this regularly but can make a point especially now. This person normally takes a pride in work/is v competitive, so I’m reluctant to say eg ‘I’ve noticed work is not usual standard/ fewer hours’. I want to be encouraging/not punishing, but not get myself a reputation for being a soft touch (which won’t help with my own higher ups)

OP’s posts: |
YowMyHead Fri 19-Feb-21 23:44:38

@LouiseTrees: thank you for the ref to Samaritans

I’m v nervous tbh about challenging/questioning performance... I was hoping to give a few weeks, but guess in need to set a limit in my mind (eg give it 2 weeks to get back to normal). I realise things may not change without a conversation though...

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Invisimamma Fri 19-Feb-21 23:55:25

Does she have children? Just that juggling childcare and home schooling is an impossible task and it's not surprising that outputs and general wellbeing will slip. It's breaking even the toughest of us.

YowMyHead Sat 20-Feb-21 00:11:10

@Invisimamma: no kids, late 30s & has mentioned not having kids a few times which also makes me wonder if something going on (MC etc). Partner works in arts and has lost job so that’s an additional pressure... she’s always come over as anxious/emotional, but performance always good til last 4 weeks or so...

Personally I think compassion/space is best approach, (because she has a lot of credit in the bank for high performance) but wondering where I draw line vs not tackling issue. I’m new so also worry about repercussions for me

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Mydogruns Sat 20-Feb-21 09:26:33

Find out what help you can offer her beforehand - do you have an employment assistance program, a counselling helpline, medical insurance? Refer to Occupational Health. Maybe speak to HR about a what if scenario, if you don't want to mention names - it doesn't sound like there is much tolerance of illness in your workplace.
I think you have to talk to her and say you have noticed that she is not herself recently and you want to help - you may want to think about reduce hours and time off, depending how the conversation goes, speaking to her GP, trying to hide how you feel is exhausting and imo makes things much worse.

YowMyHead Sat 20-Feb-21 10:17:17

thanks @Mydogruns: its a large multinational so they have EAP, health insurance etc, but like you say low illness tolerance

Minor complication is that she is in another country.

I don't see her going off work etc (in my 20 year career in similar companies I have experienced ZERO colleagues going off sick with stress/depression out of 100s) - maybe 1-2 weeks off following a bereavement/MC, or part time working if bereavement/ill child etc. It would be seen as a real career limiter/blocking promotions/1st in line for redundancy, so people just carry on, sometimes ending up in it being a performance issue

I have noticed that she's not doing a full day at home, so wondering whats going on. I'd like to handle it sensitively knowing she will not necessarily say 'I'm stressed/depressed', and will NEVER say 'I'm not coping' (also her personality).

Being relatively inexperienced as a manager and new in the company I also feel a bit of pressure on myself to perform/have the team perform so its worrying as normally she's one of the 'stronger legs holding the table up'

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Digestive28 Sat 20-Feb-21 10:43:33

I think you have to talk to her. If she is low/anxious she won’t concentrate that well so shorter and clearer communication is helpful - less waffle (it’s what I do when I don’t want to actually have the conversation so you may not need telling that).
And then say..I’ve noticed this, it’s unlike you as normally (all the wonderful things you have described....) so wondering what is going on? How can we support?

nogooddeedgoesunpunished Sat 20-Feb-21 10:54:58

I've been on both sides of this . As uncomfortable as it may be I do think you will be better naming it. I have started the usual conversations around " how are you ?" When the answer is " I'm alright " but the voice or body language jar with this I've actually said " you don't sound it " followed it up by saying gently" if I could tell you what I've observed" always making it clear you are there to help resolve what can be solved, support what needs more help or time and stating the obvious about the last year. You can then agree a plan of support including all that's on offer from work and maybe anything that she finds helpful outside e.g. I've given several people permission to start their working day with a 30 min slot for well-being. That can be spent meditating, yoga, reading or watching Netflix. Whatever sets them up mentally for a productive working day. Others have asked permission for a longer break at lunchtime to go for a run or complete home jobs . I have made it clear that support is on odder but also in some cases raised the right amount of professional challenge .

nogooddeedgoesunpunished Sat 20-Feb-21 10:56:03

Offer. Lack of editing annoying !

HermioneWeasley Sat 20-Feb-21 10:58:23

Agree you need a calm fact based conversation about her performance and output, say it’s out of character and ask what’s going on. Depending on what she says you can signpost her to the EAP, wellbeing programme, occ health etc.

YowMyHead Sat 20-Feb-21 11:25:32

@Digestive28, @nogooddeedgoesunpunished and @HermioneWeasley - thanks for your comments, & unanimous suggestion that I tackle the issue head on...

Guess I am going to have to pull up my big girl pants on Monday smile

OP’s posts: |
Levithecat Sat 20-Feb-21 11:31:40

I think if you just continue to give space and not tackle head on it could spiral, especially if you’re not giving her stretching work - I’m sure she’ll have noticed and that could be knocking her self esteem/impacting her performance further. Though I understand why you’ve taken that approach!
Two things spring to mind
- if you’ve had a tricky relationship and she isn’t comfy sharing with you then you / she need to find someone she can talk to. Is there another senior person she might open up to?
- as her LM you have a right to talk to her about performance, and you can say what you’ve observed. But you can separate performance from mental health - the issue is her well-being/mental health and the dips in performance for someone so capable/high performing are a red flag, but you need to addrsss her well-being first.

I’ve been on both sides, and I know people perform better when they’re given permission / supported to give themselves permission to seek help and have space to get better.

You sound like a lovely manager - it’s tough to approach these things head on but essential. The work you’re doing on culture, openness about well-being etc are all great

YowMyHead Sat 20-Feb-21 11:58:03

@Levithecat: thanks also for your thoughtful comments.

TBH we have had a strained relationship: she is VERY competitive with me, whereas I had a tough time settling in the 1st few months (I joined this company in lockdown 1) so felt like she was treading on my turf (I think she enjoyed not having a boss for a few months before I joined the company, who doesn't grin). So I initially wondered if some of her behaviour was a bit personally directed to me, but with the change in her work I'd say I'm re-evaluating that

What I have done so far is:
- try to be more postive/understanding in conversations
- give her totally separate/autonomous responsibilities vs mine (to ease the competition dynamic a bit)
- suggest I could help her find a mentor within/outside the company

My boss has also suggested she could do a 30 min/month 1-2-1, which could be good in other ways (recognition/motivation to succeed), but I don't think will do much re the depression

Since Xmas she has had a lot less work than usual (our workload is unpredictable/peaks and troughs). I would say she was coping better before Xmas when workload was high (I was doing 8-8 and some weekends myself, think she was doing v long days but not weekends).

The lower workload has hidden the problem a bit (and she did 1 well-received piece in Jan), but she turned in some work last week that was not up to usual standard so I think that's a big red flag to me, as well as the appearance changes. I think I need to monitor the work for another 1-2 weeks (as it seems premature to say to her that her performance has dropped), what I think would be unwise is for my boss to give her lots of new responsibilities (as we have one of her peers leaving the team so there is a gap to fill during recruitment). So I think I need to flag to my boss in short term & monitor while asking about wellbeing for a couple of weeks, and then performance if the drop is sustained

My own boss thinks I am 'too lenient' vs my peers and so I feel a bit watched in this situation too. I've been told not to 'baby' the team, meanwhile I think when people are low is not the moment to push hard.

Your point about giving stretching work/self-esteem is really helpful in this context: a manageable challenge is what I need to aim for.

Sodding pandemic created MH issues!!

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Levithecat Sat 20-Feb-21 12:09:08

Oh it’s so tough! And managing people remotely! I joined my team during the pandemic too, and one of the team had been acting up into my role, so I totally get it. Has she had any annual leave recently? I’ve encouraged all my team to take a day or two off this month, has helped. Not that that is a panacea for someone who is likely experiencing some mental health problems, but may give her some legitimate breathing space.

Re: being lenient, it’s not for everyone but I really like compassionate leadership as an approach. It doesn’t mean being soft but does mean putting people first. Lots of resources online.

sneakysnoopysniper Sat 20-Feb-21 18:24:50

As a manager you really do need to be seen to deal with this and cover your own back. I once brought a complaint to a manager which could have been dealt with informally. The fact that there were disability issues should have been a red flag to the manager - a nice woman who hated confrontation. She kicked it into the long grass and it ultimately cost the organization thousands in compensation. The fact that your company has low tolerance of HR issues has some implications for your own career too in your ability to deal assertively with such matters.

larrythelizard Sat 20-Feb-21 18:56:17

I'm sorry but I haven't RTFT.

I've recently started work for an outstanding manager. She's talked about previous post natal anxiety and how she dealt with it and talks very openly about how she's feeling about lockdown etc. She's encouraged us all to take time out if and when we need it at the same time as pushing us to do our best work. She understands that whilst we all enjoy work, family and friends come first.

My eyes have been opened about a manager confessing to any level of vulnerability and if I should ever manage a team I will be emulating my current boss.

You could try having a very open dialogue with your employee and mention that they're usually stellar but seem a bit off the boil and ask how you can help - does she need time out etc?

YowMyHead Sat 20-Feb-21 19:23:34

@Levithecat and @sneakysnoopysniper

Thanks for your additional comments

@levi: thanks. I have told her that she is ok to take leave in the coming weeks if needed, & we actually ALL had a day off v recently as a company mental health/wellbeing initiative - maybe that will help!

@sneaky: yes, I think I need to flag this, maybe by speaking to both my manager and HR to see what if anything I might need to do (and to do it in the right way)

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Fizzgigg Sat 20-Feb-21 19:34:46

I think you directly need to address her wellbeing. A useful question is 'ehat are you doing to look after yourself at the moment'. It's not accusatory and starts a conversation.

Also, and I think this is key, you need to model compassion to yourself and what you want from your team. Publicly acknowledge your own challenges and need to look after yourself and seek support if needed. Constant signposting to EAP etc. in team meetings. If your workplace culture is tough then she won't currently want to be seen to struggle. You need to set the tone for your team though and remind them that output over time at their desk is important.

There was a good CMI Better Managers video on managing wellbeing early in lockdown. I'll try and find it...

Fizzgigg Sat 20-Feb-21 19:36:33

Here it is!

faerveren Sat 20-Feb-21 19:58:15

How often do you have 1:1 or supervision? Ours is regular and as a pp mentioned there is a well-being section in there and a health & safety section. My manager always addresses this but I have to say I have not been able to be as open with him on Teams about any personal issues as I could when we had face to face. It just seems harder.

However he always asks what I am doing to relax and protect my own wellbeing and if there’s anything he can do to assist. So he talks about taking breaks, managing caseloads etc, and he knows I like yoga and mindfulness so will ask how that’s going.

He’s been my manager a long time so will often ask about family and always reminds me that I can contact him at any time, to offload, sound off or for help. I think a lot of people are struggling and some people are too proud to ask for help.

If something needs addressing he will give me a shit sandwich, start off with the great, bring in the problems and finish with something good.

itsme7 Sat 20-Feb-21 19:58:21

When it comes to holiday, perhaps you need to rephrase it, especially given that you say she’s competitive. To her being told ‘it’s alright to take holiday if she needs it’ might be translated into ‘you’re not coping therefore you’re worthless to me - go and sort yourself out away from work.’

I tend to model by talking about my own days off, why I’m using holiday and need to recharge and what my plans are (DIY and walks!) then you can naturally leading into asking “when have you got a break coming up?” and then you’re into the conversation. If she hasn’t got any days off planned, ask her would she usually if we weren’t mid lockdown, and steer her to realise that she’s not herself - hopefully it will help her feel safe to open up to you.

I’ve worked in both finance and law work where very senior and public figures have taken time off for mental health. I’m not sure what industry you're in, but I really hope the belief that taking time out for mental health puts you first in line for redundancy is one your organisation is taking action to change. A day off for well being is nothing more than a box ticking exercise otherwise.

itsme7 Sat 20-Feb-21 20:00:11

You sound like a very nice manager btw - the fact you’ve asked the question here is testament to that.

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