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Employee with MH issues, please help!(40 Posts)
I've NC to avoid being outed - not so much for my sake but for that of the person involved. I'm hoping some of you may have experience of this and will be able to help:
I've recently agreed to take on a team member with severe mental health issues. The person in question has severe OCD and has recently spent several months at an MH hospital. They're being re-integrated into the workplace by HR and have specifically been placed with me because I have a reputation as a fair and trustworthy people manager.
I'm a bit out of my depth here, though. HR is being as helpful as they can be - but they're not MH professionals and are of limited help when it comes to helping me deal with my employee's specific behaviours. I know their triggers and am going out of my way to avoid them. I'm also keeping an eye out for things I am aware are symptoms of their OCD. But I'm basically winging it here!
Can anyone talk to me a bit about how returning to the workplace after time off sick was for them from a patient's perspective? What did you expect from your boss, and what would you think they could have reasonably expected from you?
I'm not at all sure, for example, if excessive hand washing is a remaining symptom of an improving condition or a sign that my employee is deteriorating. I'm at a bit of a loss as to explain some of their 'quirks' to other team members, seeing as they are noticeable but that I'm meant to keep things confidential as per my agreement with HR. I'm also not certain at all just how strict I should be regarding basic expectations. E.g. the person currently works afternoons only because morning rituals are an issue - they also arrive late every afternoon, though, and I have no idea at all whether this is a question of discipline or an actual symptom.
I'm not asking for or expecting answers to my specific questions, of course. I would really, really appreciate some insights from the employee's point of view, though. I'm trying to do right by this person, and there doesn't seem to be a handy guide!
Ask them. I have been working with someone with OCD and anxiety. We hot desk so the person does not have control over their own work place. I spoke to them, asked them what support I could give them. I made them feel comfortable so they feel they can come to me if there is an issue. They appreciated being asked.
Thanks, Magenta. Yes, it's obviously something I have done (actually something I strive to do with all my employees - those without MH issues appreciate a constructive, trusting relationship with their boss, too)!
What's a bit difficult with the person in question is that one of their particular issues is a tendency to minimise and trivialise. So when I ask "how are you feeling about task X" and I get a "fine" this may in fact mean anything from "actually fine" to "panicked shitless; I'm mentally drafting my resignation letter". Basically, I can't trust them to be straightforward with me because not being straightforward is a symptom of their condition.
It's really hard. I think you might actually be..how to put it...not overly involved but making things that maybe should fall to the individual your issue ?
When you talk about symptom watching and asking if things are a sign of the condition worsening. Which is amazing that you want to help but ..I'm not sure how much you should IFYWIM.
It's hard. It may be that there comes a sign you need to take them aside and tell them you think they need more help from their MH team. But I think when that time comes it will be fairly obvious.
Also that yes being late can absolutely be a result. I knew someone who was late for school every day because of OCD and rituals. It's very distressing because the later you are eg more panicked you become and the more you want to get it "just right" and more stressed you become if you can't..
Is flexi time an option ?
Sky, that's extremely helpful. And, yes, it's hard. I'm simultaneously afraid of failing my employee by demanding too much of them and by unnecessarily infantilising them by letting them get away with stuff that's just unsatisfactory work as opposed to stuff they can't do because of their condition.
When you talk about symptom watching and asking if things are a sign of the condition worsening.
That's partially because I'm ment to inform HR the second I suspect they may not be ready to be at work. Which, again, is due to them being incapable of being straightforward and tending to minimise. I agree it's not ideal, though, and if anyone has better suggestions, bring them on! As stated in the OP, it's a first for me (and I've been a manager for going on a decade).
Is flexi time an option ?
We sort of have that in place in the form of "you arrive when you can and then work X hours". The problem is that, if they arrive after, let's say 3pm, they'll have to do evening work alone. Which I can't let them do because I'm under instructions from HR to take away their laptop and lock it in the safe when they're done (they'll work ridiculous amounts of unnecessary overtime if left to their own devices).
Ah ok I see you have to inform HR. Difficult - I'm not sure what to add.
So can thy switch to mornings under the proviso that you absolutely understand the rituals and fully expect them to not be able to make it for say 9am but want them to have a go and with flexi time as well so that they can make it up when they don't make it in and not be concerned ?
If they really can't perhaps they would be better switching to part time ? If they really ant do evening work alone I'm not sure there is another option ? I'd maybe talk to HR about that one .
Because I guarantee the morning rituals probably spill over into the afternoon any they end up late anyway so if you shift the time back ...they might manage to do the full time with flexi time ?
They're PT, actually, but I think that's a great idea! Basically, make it 'arrive as early as you can, work your four hours and when you've spent your daily time at work, you're free to leave'. This might even work as a bit of an incentive, i.e. getting off work at a time when there's time left to do stuff.
I'll speak to the HR rep about this, actually. This could be very helpful, in case they manage to arrive before 3pm.
I hope so. I think it might at least be worth a try ?
You sound lovely btw.
It sounds like the avoiding working mornings due to rituals has just pushed those rituals further forward in the day. As a pp suggested can you go for a mid morning start, then if they are late there's still time to get the four hours in?
Is there no way you could, with their agreement of course, have some sort of report/assessment from their mental health professional? That would give a more joined-up approach, rather than it being all your responsibility? Although you're obviously a good and caring manger, you're not a MH practitioner and it seems you're being asked to make decisions that you're not comfortable with and probably can't be held accountable for?
No, I'm by no means a MH professional and, as my username suggests, I am a bit out of my depth here.
The firm is actually doing well with this as far as I can tell. HR is in touch with my employee's psychiatrist, so this part is thankfully covered. What neither the doctor nor HR can tell, of course, is whether or not they're able to function at the office. That's on me.
Do I want to make this call? No, of course, I don't! The impact on their life if I call it quits could be enormous - in the positive or the negative sense! OTOH, I'm arguably not the worst choice they could have made regarding who should be their manager in that I'm known to look out for my people (in the sense that I make sure to take time out of my day for them and invest time in developing and challenging them).
TBH, I also do feel personally invested in helping make this work if I possibly can. My father was diagnosed with schizophrenia when I was eight, and the impact of him eventually becoming unable to work at all has been devastating on him and on my whole family. So if there's anything at all that I can contribute to help another family avoid this heartbreak, I'm more than willing to go not only the extra mile but the extra light year if needed.
You are far too invested in this, you need to step back. Do HR have any idea about your background and why this might be difficult for you to manage?
It is fantastic that you want to help, it really is, but you are in danger of overcompensating and projecting. I don’t think your team is the right place for this employee.
How does the employee feel about their return to work? How is their performance at work?
That’s tough but you sound very thoughtful so I’d be surprised if you were doing anything too wrong.
My starting point would be that adjustments have been made to give the person alternative duties (working in your area) and changed hours. If the person isn’t meeting those changed hours (arriving late) then I would be sensitive but I think that should be dealt with as you would deal with other employees’ lateness. If different adjustments are needed then that can be made as necessary but right now they a expected to start at 2pm (say) then they should do that.
Do you have access to an occupational health report or advice? All you can do is follow it to the best of your ability. I’d be tempted to update HR or OH regularly even if you haven’t been asked to - saying that you’ve asked the employee if they’re feeling under pressure and they’ve said they’re ok but you are also aware that they tend to minimise.
I definitely agree with talking to the individual. Ask them what they would like colleagues to know (what it would helpful for the individual if colleagues knew) and what they don’t want to be shared. It’s reasonable to tell a curious colleague that you can’t share information because it’s confidential. I’m sure they have some awareness that this employee has returned after a period of ill health and should be sensitive to that within the confines of what they know. If they don’t treat their colleague fairly I’d say that’s a performance issue itself.
Sorry OP, I wasn't trying to criticise or be condescending by saying you're not a MH professional, just that it must be hard for you if it's not your area of expertise. I suppose I was thinking along the lines of an action plan, written by HR, you, the employee and the psychiatrist? To cover things like working times, agreed adjustments, warning signs etc?
Piglet that wasn't how I took it at all, no worries! TBH, this is a first for all of us, me, the HR rep (who's ace but hasn't had such a case either), my other employees (who've only been informed on a need to know basis - by the individual involved themselves with some gentle encouragement from myself when necessary, kind of what Cycle suggested, I should add), ... I'm actually feeling that we're doing alright, considering. But, yeah, we're definitely winging it at this point. Luckily, that's kind of our line of work, so we've some experience.
And, Cycle, no I don't have access to these. I have, however, been briefed quite extensively by the person involved, the HR rep and their doctor. We've also got weekly calls in place between myself and HR. I've asked that I be given one-to-one coaching by a mental health professional if I need it and this has been agreed to (but hasn't been needed so far). Like I said: we're doing well considering the circumstances. Employee seems somewhat ill at ease but does reasonably well apart from the punctuality issue. I'm trying to educate myself on managing employees with MH issues - hence my request on here ...
Ties, they say they're eager but seem a tad apprehensive. Which is more than understandable - I've actually filed this under 'positive signs - any rational person would'. Their performance has been really okay thus far, considering their experience and level of seniority, with the obvious issue being their inability to arrive at a time that allows them to work out the agreed four hours.
Rain, HR naturally knows. It'd have been supremely unprofessional of me not to declare my own biases upon being asked. Their MHP didn't think it was an issue and thought it might help for their manager to have some awareness of MH issues. And, obviously, I'm able to separate my personal feelings from my actions as a manager. It's kind of a must-have skill, I would have thought. I'm aware that some people don't have it, but I fail to comprehend how they cope with having to fire people, give negative feedback, explain why someone wasn't promoted, etc. If I weren't able to mentally separate my boss persona from who I am as a person, I'd be in the wrong job (which is not to say that you can't possibly be friends with employees - you can and I am with some, but I definitely wouldn't recommend it to the beginner manager).
Is occ health involved?
What about instead of "how do you feel about x job?", it's framed "tell me about x" and then reflect back what they say to encourage them to share more? It might make it harder to minimise?
I manage an employee with mental health issues (not specifically OCD) and one of our ways forward was for her to write a Wellness Action Plan - a document that lists triggers that might worsen their condition, symptoms for me as a manager to look out for, and what approach they would like in such a situation. It has definitely helped them to feel supported, and it's been a very useful tool for me as their manager with little understanding of mental health matters.
How about they have to rate how they are feeling on a scale rather than saying fine, also are they happier emailing about these issues than discussing?
Thanks so very much, everyone! This is precisely the practically minded input I've been hoping for!!!
Looking into all of these options!
Also, Eggsy, that link is helpful. I've just had a look around. There actually DOES seem to be some guidance for managers out there. So, so helpful!
OP As someone who left work due to a combination of mental ill-health and bullying in the workplace, I have to say that I would absolutely HATE HATE HATE people discussing my health at work. Discuss my performance. Fine. Discuss my punctuality. Fine. But it would have driven me into the depths of insanity to have known that my employer was discussing my mental health. I am relatively uncomfortable with the amount of information you have on this employee's health. Has the employee been forced to provide information as to their health? Is it necessary for you to have specific details as to their health? Has the employee requested that you be provided with their health information?
Ties, AFAIK the degree of disclosure has been driven by HR and my employees' MHP team. Full disclosure to the reintegration team manager was negotiated before I even came onto the scene, as far as I'm aware.
What I do know for certain is that our HR rep was quite insistent upon certain points being shared with me at the briefing I attended.
And, yes, I see why you would say this. It's one of the reasons I've posted on here - I'd be very uncomfortable, too, if this were myself. As a manager, I'm used to being privy to information about my employees' health in the sense that I know that someone is unable to come to work and roughly why this is. And then, of course, there's the obvious stuff (someone being on crutches) and the social chatter stuff (everyone's favourite colleague, who seems to positively enjoy sharing how many times exactly they dashed to the loo a night due to their Norovirus infection ... ewwwww!).
Necessary, of course, is debatable. Is it helpful to me to know that I'm not employing someone who quite simply can't be arsed to turn up on time? Sure! Is it necessary for me to know that there is a good reason? Probably - like any half-decent boss, I'd otherwise feel that it's something I'd have to actively performance manage for my employee's sake as well as for my own. Is it necessary for me to know any specifics of this reason? Possibly not! I would, naturally, be wondering (as I like to say, bosses are only human, too) - and seeing as I'm not completely thick and capable of googling, and seeing my employee displays some rather obvious symptoms of his condition, I'd probably work it out, feel it wasn't my place to say anything, and quietly make a few mental adjustments regarding my own expectations of them.
Insofar: brilliant point! Having given this some thought, I actually agree that I may have been somewhat over-informed (though, in my defence, I didn't have a say in how much I was told).
OTOH, given that I'm under instructions to take an employee's work tools away at the end of the day and alert HR if I think they're not quite ready to return, I kind of do expect my employer to give me an explanation as to why they would ask me to do things that I would never ordinarily consider appropriate. I might be a manager to my employees but I see my role as a servant-leader one; my job, in my opinion, mainly consists of bringing about the conditions under which they can achieve their true potential and shine. I usually have zero patience for bossess who micromanage their staff in any sort of way - that's pretty much my personal definition of 'poor manager'.
So, TBH, I don't really know at all how this situation should be handled ideally. I get why you'd find it intrusive and actually had that thought before you brought it up. I also get that managers being asked to do specific things as pertaining to particular employees have a need to know why - and that managers are employees, too, usually.
Thanks a million for the input, though. I'll have to give this some very serious thought and try and think of a solution (regarding future disclosures) that does all sides as much justice as humanly possible.
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