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Old 10-22-2015, 11:16 AM
 
413 posts, read 275,127 times
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I have a problem and tried to get some help form the work and employment section but nothing helpful was offered. I decided to go to the source.

I have several employee's (large company) who have disclosed at some point or another that they suffer from mental illness (anxiety, depression, bipolar, PTSD etc.)

These are (for the most part) low to mid/high professional functioning individuals who have distinctive functions and for the most part are in a "career field" and not an entry level job.

The issue that I seem to face is when performance decreases or some behavior/conduct arises and I need to address it. We offer full training, medical leave (Paid), accommodations (reasonable) and always favor (when we can) the employee. We are an employee centric organization but we do expect work to be performed at acceptable levels and behavior to be professional at all times.

Here is the problem that I face every time. We sit down with employee either informal or formally to discuss the deficiencies in the work performance or conduct and instead of the response you would expect, which is "wow, sorry about that what can I do to do a better job, or if you would help me out with xyz I'm sure I can do it better"? I get, "it's not my fault I have a disability (so performance doesn't apply to me) and then they either go out on stress leave because the discussion created an anxiety meltdown, they quit, sue us, or I end calling the police to do a wellness check because I'm afraid they will hurt themselves.

How can I have a discussion with someone that is mentally sensitive without them going into a meltdown?
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Old 10-22-2015, 04:19 PM
 
Location: New York NY
4,480 posts, read 6,735,433 times
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I'm curious as to how you've come to know that these employees have mental/psychological/mood disorders in the first place .

But nonetheless, the law says that you must make REASONABLE accommodations for people with disabilities. If you're already doing this for these individuals -- and what's reasonable may be different in every case -- then you are legally covered. But if after taking these measures, whatever they are, and the individual A) still falls short on job performance, and B) refuses to engage you in ways to improve job performance, then you may be free to terminate that person on the basis of poor job performance because you will have already addressed their disability. Alternately, you may be free to find another position in the company that the person is able to do.

It is much easier to see how to do this when the disability is physical rather than mental, but it's not impossible. If a worker has a severe anxiety attack every time they have to meet with a client, for example, you can find a non-client position for that person -- or if none exists, fire them. If they cannot work on projects with co-workers without manic screaming and veiled threats, you can accommodate that person with a position in the company where they work alone, and if none is possible, you can fire them. But if they cannot listen to suggestions on how to better their work performance in a position that you have already made accommodations for, than by definition they aren't doing their job and can be fired.

Obviously, since the definition of "reasonable accommodations" can be fluid, you have to be very careful with this and no doubt your company's legal and HR departments can help you out. But remember two things: No employee (including you) has to be subject to verbal abuse or any other type of hostile working environment at a company, and no employee, from the mailroom to the CEO's corner office, is irreplaceable.

Good luck.

You also ight get some thoughts on this situation posting in the Work and Employment forum

Last edited by citylove101; 10-22-2015 at 04:45 PM..
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Old 10-22-2015, 07:19 PM
 
3,431 posts, read 3,357,026 times
Reputation: 4159
Quote:
Originally Posted by cayennev8 View Post
I have a problem and tried to get some help form the work and employment section but nothing helpful was offered. I decided to go to the source.

I have several employee's (large company) who have disclosed at some point or another that they suffer from mental illness (anxiety, depression, bipolar, PTSD etc.)

These are (for the most part) low to mid/high professional functioning individuals who have distinctive functions and for the most part are in a "career field" and not an entry level job.

The issue that I seem to face is when performance decreases or some behavior/conduct arises and I need to address it. We offer full training, medical leave (Paid), accommodations (reasonable) and always favor (when we can) the employee. We are an employee centric organization but we do expect work to be performed at acceptable levels and behavior to be professional at all times.

Here is the problem that I face every time. We sit down with employee either informal or formally to discuss the deficiencies in the work performance or conduct and instead of the response you would expect, which is "wow, sorry about that what can I do to do a better job, or if you would help me out with xyz I'm sure I can do it better"? I get, "it's not my fault I have a disability (so performance doesn't apply to me) and then they either go out on stress leave because the discussion created an anxiety meltdown, they quit, sue us, or I end calling the police to do a wellness check because I'm afraid they will hurt themselves.

How can I have a discussion with someone that is mentally sensitive without them going into a meltdown?
We don't know from your post what country you are in, or what state/provincial laws apply, or if you are dealing with a union scenario. These are all relevant. Does your human resources department not provide any guidance to you? Or are you part of the HR dept. at your organization?

Depending upon the situation, could the employee have a union representative and/or a support person attend meetings with management along side them? (It's also sometimes a good idea to have a union rep there just as a witness.)

I have no expertise with this situation, except as someone who has dealt with mental illness. It's like any other impairment though--a brain chemistry disorder is still a physical illness. You can't expect someone with a broken arm to lift heavy boxes, etc., so adjust your expectations accordingly.

In Canada, employers cannot legally force employees to disclose a health diagnosis to the employer--whether it's a physical illness or a mental illness. The employee should disclose if they are suffering from a health matter, and seeing a doctor for treatment, and if they require accommodations or sick leave. However, they aren't required to disclose a diagnosis, whether they take medication, or details of treatment to their employer. Privacy laws and all that.
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Old 10-23-2015, 09:00 AM
 
413 posts, read 275,127 times
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Thanks Citilove101 and Otawa2011 -
Firstly, very text book, accurate and legal procedures to you both. There is no union involvement and we can't ask about health information in the U.S. either. Having a union or not, we would still want to work with the employee to increase the performance to standard, firing people sucks so I would prefer not to go down that road.....but will if performance doesn't increase.

I am not asking how to address the issue or anything about reasonable accommodation (how to's or legal ramifications). And I have already reached out to the work and employment forum and got the same answers but none of which from someone with a mental disability who would like to share with me how best to go about having a conversation about their poor performance.

Maybe my question was too long so how about this:

If you have a mental disability and your work performance is suffering, how is the best way/approach for your manager to address it with you knowing that the requirements and expectations of the job will not change?
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Old 10-23-2015, 04:45 PM
 
3,431 posts, read 3,357,026 times
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Quote:
Originally Posted by cayennev8 View Post
Thanks Citilove101 and Otawa2011 -
Firstly, very text book, accurate and legal procedures to you both. There is no union involvement and we can't ask about health information in the U.S. either. Having a union or not, we would still want to work with the employee to increase the performance to standard, firing people sucks so I would prefer not to go down that road.....but will if performance doesn't increase.

I am not asking how to address the issue or anything about reasonable accommodation (how to's or legal ramifications). And I have already reached out to the work and employment forum and got the same answers but none of which from someone with a mental disability who would like to share with me how best to go about having a conversation about their poor performance.

Maybe my question was too long so how about this:

If you have a mental disability and your work performance is suffering, how is the best way/approach for your manager to address it with you knowing that the requirements and expectations of the job will not change?
That's a tough one. Long post ahead, but I hope it sheds a little light on a really complex issue:

The main problem I have with most "accommodation" policies (and laws) is that they were basically written with physical disabilities in mind, not mental health disabilities. When someone has a visual impairment, for example, things are pretty cut and dry. Can they read what's on their computer monitor, yes or no? If not, the accommodations are based on standard technology and adaptive tools that are available. So, you install those tools. Then you check with the employee again: can they read what's on the computer monitor, yes or no? Perhaps I'm oversimplifying, as I've never dealt with a serious physical impairment. Others might have a different story to tell.

But here's my story: I had a mental health issue, severe anxiety, that resulted in paranoid, delusional thinking, and panic attacks, and erratic behaviour. No one at work said a word about it to me. Not because they didn't notice anything odd; I'm pretty sure they did. They just didn't know what to say (or how to say anything without getting themselves into trouble). This took place over several long weeks... I somehow ended up going to a doctor on my own, got referred to a psychiatrist, and took a few weeks off work to get stabilized on medication.

I went back to work (union job in an office) and things have been good since. I take a mood stabilizer, and I've been on it for 10 years. I have a professional job, and my work performance evaluations are great now. It was tough dealing with some crap from some people after I returned to work, but I didn't discuss my reasons for being on leave. I never disclosed the diagnosis. And due to lack of fuel for the fire, the gossip and office bs eventually dried up and stopped. I was young and resilient and wanted to keep working. There was no way I was going to live the rest of my life on a disability pension.

All this to say: there's no manual for dealing with mental health issues in the workplace. There's such a taboo around discussing mental health even outside of work, that it makes things way tougher than they need to be. I feel sorry for managers, because it isn't like you're trained psychiatrists. No one has paid for you to go through a medical residency, and yet you're put into the position of handling staff who might not even be able to think clearly in difficult situations.

A bit more background: because of the rules for my workplace--union stuff too--I had to get a medical checkup before I could be allowed to return to work. Basically, an objective doctor would do the checkup and sign off that I was fit to go back to work. So I went to the doctor, and he gave me a physical.... I wish I was making this up. Had me stick out my tongue, used a stethoscope, weighed me, checked my blood pressure. (All OK.) So afterward, I pointed out to him that I was referred to him by a psychiatrist, and had been out on medical leave for a psychiatric condition. Told him what meds I was taking. He asked me a couple of quick questions: "Are you experiencing any symptoms? Is the medication working?" I said yes, so he signed off that I was fit to return to work. My answers were "self-reporting", and I could've said anything that I wanted to say. Not exactly scientific. But as it was, the medication was working, and I wasn't having symptoms anymore. I went back to work.

This could play out a whole lot of different ways, depending on a person's medical condition. Some patients take years to get a correct diagnosis... or to get a correct medication, or a correct dosage. Quite an ordeal, Sometimes they have physical side effects, sometimes they have cognitive difficulties caused by medication.

OTOH..... Sometimes they do just fine on the medication, and problems at work with performance might be completely unrelated to their psychiatric condition. Because you're not a psychiatrist, and can't examine the employee yourself, you can't say one way or the other.

If you're in need of advice on just how to manage someone at an interpersonal level, when they're highly emotional and in "meltdown" mode, all I can tell you is this: you can't "reason" with a mentally ill person who either isn't sufficiently medicated/treated, or who isn't complying with their medication prescription/treatment regimen. Sadly, this is too often the case. You can't really butt in and advise them to take their meds, change doctors, try a different type of therapy, etc. They're independent adults and have to make those decisions on their own.

I had a coworker retired early due to "stress", "personality conflicts", "performance issues", etc... she should've been on a prescription for her mood swings, but chose to use new age, homeopathic remedies instead... crystals and incense and acupuncture and whatever. Not effective.... but this is reality in a large office, you'll see a lot of people in sad situations.

Pay attention to the legalities, and use those as your guide. Not much in the way of advice, but that's all I have to offer to you. You have a tough job.
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Old 10-24-2015, 06:16 AM
 
3,431 posts, read 3,357,026 times
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...and, after that long, long post, I came back to add something else:

It's worth remembering that employees who are mental health patients get zero counselling or talk therapy, quite often. Many people like me take medication but don't get referred to talk therapy, because talk therapy is useless for the condition. The psychiatrist who diagnosed me and put me on a mood stabilizer, she just shook my hand and told me "good luck" as I was leaving her office. Out into the cold cruel world, and back to work to deal with that mess on my own. All I had was a prescription, nothing else.

Psychiatric patients get no career guidance at all from their psychiatrists/psychologists. The only work guidance they'll get is from you, your HR dept, or the union. There's no such thing as occupational therapy for mental illnesses. Psychiatrists make a point of refusing to give patients job or career advice--they can't, because they have no idea what's actually happening at the patient's workplace, and they have no expertise in employment matters.

Just making sure you see both sides of the coin. You have HR, policies, lawyers, etc. to back you up. The fact that the employee has none of that and feels like they're up against The Machine is seriously intimidating. Encouragement, rather than criticism, would work with some employees, less than with others, but it's worth trying if you can retain at least a few of them and improve their performance.

I don't know what sort of work is done at your workplace, but making sure that performance metrics are used across the board for all employees, and that feedback is regular, would go a long way in ensuring fairness with performance evaluations.
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Old 10-26-2015, 02:14 PM
 
413 posts, read 275,127 times
Reputation: 847
Quote:
Originally Posted by Ottawa2011 View Post
...and, after that long, long post, I came back to add something else:

It's worth remembering that employees who are mental health patients get zero counselling or talk therapy, quite often. Many people like me take medication but don't get referred to talk therapy, because talk therapy is useless for the condition. The psychiatrist who diagnosed me and put me on a mood stabilizer, she just shook my hand and told me "good luck" as I was leaving her office. Out into the cold cruel world, and back to work to deal with that mess on my own. All I had was a prescription, nothing else.

Psychiatric patients get no career guidance at all from their psychiatrists/psychologists. The only work guidance they'll get is from you, your HR dept, or the union. There's no such thing as occupational therapy for mental illnesses. Psychiatrists make a point of refusing to give patients job or career advice--they can't, because they have no idea what's actually happening at the patient's workplace, and they have no expertise in employment matters.

Just making sure you see both sides of the coin. You have HR, policies, lawyers, etc. to back you up. The fact that the employee has none of that and feels like they're up against The Machine is seriously intimidating. Encouragement, rather than criticism, would work with some employees, less than with others, but it's worth trying if you can retain at least a few of them and improve their performance.

I don't know what sort of work is done at your workplace, but making sure that performance metrics are used across the board for all employees, and that feedback is regular, would go a long way in ensuring fairness with performance evaluations.

Wow, Ottawa2011 thank you for you insight and thoughtful response. You are right on target from all perspectives as this is not new to me. I have been in management, HR and worked with legal for more than 20 years so I know all too well what the challenges are. And yes, although working through an accommodation with someone who is physically impaired may seem easier, I do not distinguish between the two.

Your case is probably more common than what I am trying to reconcile. I have many individuals take disability leave (I think roughly 10% of my workforce is generally out on leave) and although I do not have any access to the reason(s), I imagine several are for mental health issues, not to mention surgery, pregnancy, having a baby, broken bones or terminal illness. There are a lot of reasons and I do not and can not ask questions. We have a very liberal and generous leave program so for obvious reasons people utilize it.

I have to reiterate again that this is not about treating people differently through unfair performance or undue criticism. It's also to about accommodation because I am willing to work through any issue if the employee is willing to participate. You also nailed it when you said you can't reason with someone who is in the midst of a mental illness and not stable. You can't give advice and this is where things go south especially with an uncooperative employee.

Can you tell me this. Did something happen at work that spurred you to get help?
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Old 10-26-2015, 03:28 PM
 
3,431 posts, read 3,357,026 times
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Quote:
Originally Posted by cayennev8 View Post
Wow, Ottawa2011 thank you for you insight and thoughtful response. You are right on target from all perspectives as this is not new to me. I have been in management, HR and worked with legal for more than 20 years so I know all too well what the challenges are. And yes, although working through an accommodation with someone who is physically impaired may seem easier, I do not distinguish between the two.

Your case is probably more common than what I am trying to reconcile. I have many individuals take disability leave (I think roughly 10% of my workforce is generally out on leave) and although I do not have any access to the reason(s), I imagine several are for mental health issues, not to mention surgery, pregnancy, having a baby, broken bones or terminal illness. There are a lot of reasons and I do not and can not ask questions. We have a very liberal and generous leave program so for obvious reasons people utilize it.

I have to reiterate again that this is not about treating people differently through unfair performance or undue criticism. It's also to about accommodation because I am willing to work through any issue if the employee is willing to participate. You also nailed it when you said you can't reason with someone who is in the midst of a mental illness and not stable. You can't give advice and this is where things go south especially with an uncooperative employee.

Can you tell me this. Did something happen at work that spurred you to get help?
Strangely enough, no. This was just a case of luck and circumstance, I think.

I was suffering from a lot of extreme anxiety, which started a bit slowly and gradually around mid-Fall (maybe early November?). I'm an introvert anyway, and with the anxiety, I started becoming suspicious of everything around me and I withdrew a lot, avoiding coworkers. It was just a big cubicle farm anyway, everyone working on their own assignments, and I was able to kind of keep my symptoms from being too noticeable to others that way.

As odd as it sounds, I was rational enough to keep plugging away at my work, and my output wasn't suffering at all. I think focusing on work was one way that I dealt with the anxiety, it was a way of keeping my mind off my spinning emotions. My manager did say something to me in early December that I seemed to be a bit stressed, and I was keeping to myself a lot, and he expressed some concern, but I reassured him that I was fine. He was the only one who said anything to me, and he seemed ok with my reassurances.

By the time mid-December came along, I was falling apart at home, and barely keeping myself together at work. The end of December was a sharp deterioration. But I had 10 days of vacation over the holidays, and that was when I had a bad episode--several days of panic attacks and no sleep. I took myself to the doctor and was sent to a psychiatrist, who immediately had me take 6 weeks off work and start a mood stabilizer.

Had I been at the office in that condition, I'm not sure what would've happened. I think it was pure luck that I had some time off work anyway, and that I took myself to a doctor. I was rationalizing a lot of my perceptions and my behaviour until I couldn't really function.
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Old 10-26-2015, 03:36 PM
 
6,319 posts, read 6,069,122 times
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OP I have a pile of mental illnesses.

I also have a successful career behind me.

Not one of my bosses was ever aware of my problems.

You also have a raft of people working for you, who have Undiagnosed mental health issues.

Those are the ones I'd be worried about.

On a practical note, addressing employees briefly, respectfully, without value judgement, ensuring they have a support person in place, is the absolute best way to handle any problem that may arise.
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Old 10-27-2015, 11:33 AM
 
Location: SoCal again
17,261 posts, read 14,230,330 times
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My bf is a foreman and he told his mental and disabled employees that they should tell him whenever they need help or special accommodation. He let's them know that he values every person, is concerned and interested in them and their work and if they don't feel right, they should stay home and let him know and it's alright.

In turn, they are so happy that he took that personal approach and do their best to perform well. If your employees like you, they will go above and beyond to do their tasks. If they do not like you, they don't give a rats a$$ and will use you and your company to their advantage.

Maybe take on some management classes and learn how to motivate your employees. Not just the mental ones, everybody. If people are happy at work, they will be way more productive.
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