I have been fortunate enough to work with some incredible team members over my 20-plus career. These are dedicated folks who day in and day out give 100% to the team and the organization. There is nothing they would not do for the organization, and they invest all that they have into their work.
But like all of us, these stellar teammates are human, and sometimes personal life can encroach on professional ones. Challenges may arise, and things can become complicated—the death of a loved one, a financial crisis, a failing marriage, or a child in trouble. Or, like so many in the health care profession, they are silently struggling with mental health issues.
Suddenly, someone who has delivered ten years of exemplary work starts to falter—deadlines are missed, things fall through the cracks, and their “can do” attitude no longer shines as bright. Despite the help of teammates and managers looking the other way, sometimes, the bump in the road lasts a little too long or gets unmanageable. As a leader, we are then faced with what we often perceive to be a difficult decision—cut the team member loose or reach in and help them find their way back.
For me, the decision is never that difficult. I will choose to do everything I can to help my team members—my family, my friend—in need each time. How can I overlook the years of great work, friendship, and dedication and instead focus on a couple of months of not so good times?
Obviously, there are specific and rare instances where lines get crossed, and disciplinary action must be taken, but for the most part, intervening and doing all I can is the only way I know to go. For many folks who are struggling, their work—even when not going well—is their lifeline. Taking that away from them permanently and during a difficult time can be incredibly harmful.
And so, what as a manager and team leader, what can we do?
- Have a compassionate and non-threatening conversation with them. Be transparent, sympathetic, but clear.
- Let them know that you are aware of the performance issues, but that you are equally concerned with what is going on with them outside of the office.
- Work with them to put a plan into place to get them back on track. You might need to insist on specific next steps, but you can do that in as supportive as a way possible.
- Acknowledge that struggling with a mental health issue is nothing for which they should feel shame.
- If they need to take some time off or seek counseling or treatment, work with them and your HR folks to facilitate this process.
- Put the appropriate conditions in place to help them make a smooth re-entry when they are ready to come back.
- Keep an eye on them—check in early and often. Encourage their progress and lean in if you feel they need some help.
But most importantly, communicate, let them know you care and that you want them to be part of the organization for the long haul.
Note: In my next post, I want to dive a little deeper and discuss reducing the stigma surrounding mental health challenges in our profession, so team members feel more comfortable and we feel better equipped to help them with they are facing these challenges.