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Hold off on performance plans – your employee might be ill

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HC Online | 05 Nov 2013, 12:01 AM Agree 0
Before engaging an employee in a performance improvement plan over poor work, HR needs to keep a few things in mind, according to an expert.
  • Deborah | 05 Nov 2013, 02:11 PM Agree 0
    As a HR Manager and someone who has experienced mental health from close range I am very empathic to the potential of bias and social stigma that can/does happen. I totally agree that a balanced approach needs to be taken when dealing with these (and other) issues, however, I also firmly believe that the employee in question needs to be responsible for their actions. If the employee is not taking responsible action for their illness, then adopting a 'buffer stage' may prove to be enabling and detrimental instead of constructively supporting.

    Employees have a right to privacy and if they do not want to disclose they have a mental illness then that is their choice and should be respected. However, as an employee they also have a responsibility towards their employer to fulfill the role requirements they were employed to accomplish.

    I see it as a two-way street. Employers need to ensure they develop and drive a workplace culture that will respect and support an employee in these (and other) circumstances. Employees need "own" and drive that culture also, and to be respectlful of their responsibilities to their employers.

    Perhaps the question should be, what do employees need in terms of a culture whereby they feel respected and supported to discuss (with HR or another manager) a mental illness issue they have. If this question isn't answered, the employer can't provide what the employee needs.
  • SDM | 05 Nov 2013, 03:31 PM Agree 0
    My intial response to this article was to EXHALE... slowly. This is so tough & I think we all know what the mentail illness stats are. Any of us are going to have lots of people in our workforce suffering from a mental illness at any one time. The complexity of course is that workloads are increasing & resources decreasing so people are under pressure suffreing stress & anxiety. Anyone with a Mentall illness is going to struggle more to deal with that pressure. I have to admit whenever I am advised to have a good policy (on anything) in place, it makes me irritable. The reality is that employment is an exchange - skill/work for pay. Therefore, at the crudest lever you need to perform to keep your job. Where employers need to be reasonable & socially responsible, I'm not sure the experts at Swinburne Uni have worked a day in a business... their recommendations aren't particularly helpful. I have had to work through issues with such people & things drag on for months & entire teams suffer. It's really messy & my duty of care extends to all the people affected, not just the one person. I don't know what the solution is, but a policy & giving them enought time to completely loose credibility is probably not the answer.
  • Al | 05 Nov 2013, 03:48 PM Agree 0
    Deborah and SDM's comments sum up my thoughts perfectly. This issue is MUCH bigger than a policy fix and the answer lies more with culture and a responsible common sense approach. Of course nothing is going to change overnight and cultural change in business requires cultural change in society so we still have a long way to go....Both employers and employees need to have responsibilities here though.
  • cod | 05 Nov 2013, 05:37 PM Agree 0
    As an employee with depression no policy is going to fix the problem of what is the best way to manage this in the workplace. I'm currently struggling and my performance is not good. I realise this, I can change my state of mind and I struggle every day to get up and do my job and I don't feel I can tell my employer. I know I have a responsibility to my employer however what do I do. Say oh sorry can't do my job at the moment having a period of depression should be ok in a few weeks bare with me!
  • Cameron | 06 Nov 2013, 10:04 AM Agree 0
    Some excellent comments coming through on this story. Thank you very much for your insights, everyone.
  • Anonymous | 06 Nov 2013, 02:07 PM Agree 0
    I don't think policy will do much to improve this issue. I actually think that in most cases, it's difficult to accommodate someone with mental illness because every day can be different.
    The most ideal situation I could see if there was a job sharing situation that was flexible enough to accommodate the rough days although the role would have to be suitable(ie: receptionist role would be suitable, however a project manager role would not).
    It's a tough predicament for both parties. It's important to keep those with mental illness productive and active in society as it is the best for them but also because they are indeed valuable, however just unreliable due to their illness.
  • AR | 11 Nov 2013, 10:38 AM Agree 0
    A very topical issue and excellent comments. Luckily our organisation has a culture that allows everyone to be truthful about their personal circumstances so employees tend to front up their issues straight away e.g anxiety attacks, severe depression due to loss of a loved one and so on. We have been able to deal with the issues as they arise without having to change the policy. Everyone still needs to be accountable for their jobs.
  • Bernie Althofer | 11 Nov 2013, 02:03 PM Agree 0
    Some workplaces have recognised the challenges they face in relation to responding to the rise of mental health issues.

    However, it seems that in some cases, mental health is still viewed as a 'taboo' and for an individual to raise the issue, it can be a career limiting move. In some cases, individuals struggle through their daily work and do a good job under the circumstances, but at the same time, only manage to do so because of various treatment they are receiving, often without the knowledge of their workplace.

    Being dismissive of individuals and putting them on performance improvement plans may not be in the best interests of anyone. However, it could well be argued that this is when a performance improvement plan needs to be in place so that the individuals is monitored and supported through the provision of support and growth opportunities. It might be the case that if those with mental health issues are excused from performance improvement plans, then others in the workplace might perceive that they are receiving preferential treatment.

    It seems that where a workplace culture has been developed based on trust, respect and dignity, then individuals may feel more inclined to approach either their manager or support personnel to seek assistance.

    Given the increased pressures being placed on people at all levels in organisations, and the changes to work health and safety, this is an issue that really needs to be discussed in workplaces so that everyone understands what their obligations and requirements are.
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