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How to Manage Employee Performance and Mental Health Issues

Stress, burnout, anxiety, and depression are not just personal struggles; they are barriers that hinder individual and collective success within the workplace. When employees are battling with their mental well-being, their ability to perform at their best is compromised, leading to decreased productivity, increased absenteeism, and strained team dynamics.

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Stress, burnout, anxiety, and depression are not just personal struggles; they are barriers that hinder individual and collective success within the workplace. When employees are battling with their mental well-being, their ability to perform at their best is compromised, leading to decreased productivity, increased absenteeism, and strained team dynamics.

As Mental Health and Wellness Month draws to a close, it's time to transport the lessons we have learnt on social media platforms back home. Those flashy banners and posts urging the prioritization of mental health may attract likes and shares, but true action requires more than just virtual signalling. As decision-makers in our workplaces, it's imperative to ask ourselves: have we truly considered the mental well-being of our employees? What if neglecting this aspect is the missing puzzle piece preventing us from achieving our company's strategic goals for the first quarter?

Today we explore the interaction between mental health and employee performance in this article through these subjects:

  • How do mental health issues impact employee performance 

  • How to talk to an employee about their mental health

  • How to talk to an employee about their performance 

  • How to build an employee performance plan


How do mental health issues impact employee performance?

In today's fast-paced and demanding work environment, the relationship between employee performance and mental health is not just a minor concern—it's a fundamental aspect of organizational success. Too often, we fall into the trap of viewing these two priorities as mutually exclusive, when in reality, they are deeply intertwined. Imagine a seesaw: if one end is weighed down too heavily, the balance is lost, and the desired outcome becomes unattainable. Similarly, in our organizational culture, neglecting mental health in favour of chasing performance metrics can ultimately sabotage our goals. As leaders and managers, it's crucial to recognize the significant impact of mental health issues on employee performance and productivity.

Stress, burnout, anxiety, and depression are not just personal struggles; they are barriers that hinder individual and collective success within the workplace. When employees are battling with their mental well-being, their ability to perform at their best is compromised, leading to decreased productivity, increased absenteeism, and strained team dynamics. Therefore, achieving a balance between prioritizing mental health and fostering employee performance is not just commendable—it's a necessity. It requires a shift in mindset and a commitment to creating a supportive and inclusive work environment where employees feel valued, heard, and supported in their mental well-being. This means investing in resources, policies, and initiatives that promote mental wellness, destigmatize seeking help, and provide avenues for support and intervention when needed.


Read Also: The Role of an Employer in Facilitating Positive Mental Health


How to talk to an employee about their mental health

Initiating a conversation about mental health with an employee is a delicate subject that necessitates a well-thought-out approach. Here's an elaboration on how to effectively navigate this crucial conversation:


  1. Establish Trust and Confidentiality: Begin by setting the stage for a confidential and trusting dialogue. Choose a private setting where the employee feels comfortable and secure, away from the hustle of the workplace. Assure them that the conversation will remain confidential unless there is an imminent risk to their safety or the safety of others. Resist from having these conversations in a public space where interruptions cannot be avoided. However do not also choose the boardroom, that might set the employee into a panic. 

  1. Show Empathy and Understanding: Approach the conversation with empathy and genuine concern for the employee's well-being. Express your willingness to listen and support them without judgment. Use empathetic statements to convey understanding, such as "I can imagine this must be challenging for you" "I'm here to support you in any way I can" and “What can we do to make this easier for you. Such a statement enables one to easily open up instead of building an emotional wall.

  2. Use Open-ended Questions: Encourage the employee to share their thoughts and feelings by asking open-ended questions that invite deeper reflection and dialogue. Avoid interrogative or leading questions that may feel intrusive or intimidating. Instead, frame questions in a way that allows the employee to express themselves freely, Instead of “What happened to your wife, I had you divorced?” use statements such as "How have you been feeling lately?" or "Can you tell me more about what you're experiencing?" 

  3. Practice Active Listening: Actively listen to the employee's responses without interruption or judgment. Demonstrate your attentiveness through non-verbal cues such as maintaining eye contact, nodding in agreement, and providing verbal affirmations. Reflect on their words to show that you understand and validate their experiences.

  1. Validate Their Feelings: Validate the employee's feelings and experiences by acknowledging their emotions without downplaying or dismissing them. Let them know that it's normal to experience challenges with mental health and that they are not alone in their struggles. Avoid offering unsolicited advice or trying to "fix" their problems; instead, focus on validating their feelings and offering support.

  2. Encourage Support-seeking Behavior: Reassure the employee that seeking support for mental health concerns is a sign of strength, not weakness. Encourage them to explore available resources such as counselling services, or mental health workshops. Offer to assist them in accessing these resources and provide ongoing support throughout their journey. Having the best approach to a conversation on mental health should be a win-win, where the employer is getting enough information to help the employee and the employee be safe to disclose this delicate part of themselves. 


How to talk to an employee about their performance 

Addressing performance concerns with an employee requires a tactful strategy to ensure a productive and respectful dialogue. Here's an expanded guide on how to effectively communicate with an employee about their performance:


  1. Schedule a Private Meeting: Start by arranging a private meeting with the employee to discuss their performance. Choose a neutral and comfortable environment where both parties can openly communicate without distractions. Emphasize the confidential nature of the conversation to create a safe space for dialogue. Inform the employee ahead of time clearly stating what you are going to talk about. This way one eases into the discussion. 

  1. Approach with Sensitivity: Initiate the conversation with empathy and understanding, recognizing that discussing performance issues can be sensitive for the employee. Begin by acknowledging their contributions and strengths to set a positive tone for the discussion.

  2. Focus on Specific Behaviors and Outcomes: When providing feedback, focus on specific behaviours, actions, or outcomes rather than making generalized criticisms. Be specific about the areas where improvement is needed and provide concrete examples to illustrate your points. This approach helps the employee understand what aspects of their performance require attention and clarity on expectations.

  3. Utilize the "Sandwich" Approach: Employ the "sandwich" technique by sandwiching constructive feedback between positive affirmations. Start the conversation with genuine praise for the employee's strengths and contributions. Then, address areas for improvement with constructive feedback and actionable steps for growth. Finally, conclude on an encouraging note, reaffirming your confidence in their ability to improve.

  4. Encourage Two-Way Communication: Foster open dialogue by inviting the employee to share their perspective on their performance and any challenges they may be facing. Actively listen to their feedback and validate their concerns to demonstrate that their voice is valued. Encourage them to propose potential solutions and collaborate on strategies for improvement.

  5. Set Clear Expectations and Goals: Establish clear expectations and mutually agreed-upon goals for the employee's performance moving forward. Ensure that these goals are SMART (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, Time-bound) to provide clarity and direction. Collaborate with the employee to develop a performance improvement plan that outlines actionable steps, timelines, and support mechanisms.

  1. Follow Up and Provide Support: Schedule regular check-ins to monitor progress, provide ongoing feedback, and offer support as needed. Recognize and celebrate small victories along the way to maintain morale and motivation. Offer resources, training opportunities, or mentorship to help the employee develop the skills and competencies necessary for success.


Read Also: Building a High-performance Culture is Every Manager’s Dream. But How do You do it Right?


How to build an employee performance plan

Crafting an effective employee performance plan is instrumental in driving individual and organizational success. Here's a detailed guide on how to build a robust performance plan that fosters growth and development:


  1. Define Clear Goals and Objectives: Begin by identifying specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and time-bound (SMART) goals that align with both the employee's role and the organization's objectives. Collaborate with the employee to establish goals that are challenging yet attainable, fostering a sense of ownership and commitment.

  2. Break Down Goals into Actionable Steps: Once overarching goals are established, break them down into smaller, actionable steps or milestones. This division makes goals more manageable and allows for incremental progress tracking. Assign deadlines to each task to maintain accountability and momentum.

  3. Align Goals with Organizational Priorities: Ensure that individual goals are aligned with broader organizational priorities and initiatives. By doing so, employees understand how their contributions directly contribute to the company's success, fostering a sense of purpose and alignment.

  4. Establish Regular Check-Ins: Schedule regular check-in meetings between managers and employees to review progress, provide feedback, and discuss any challenges or obstacles encountered. These check-ins serve as opportunities to course-correct, celebrate successes, and identify areas for improvement.

  5. Provide Ongoing Feedback: Offer timely and constructive feedback to employees throughout the performance period. Recognize and acknowledge achievements, no matter how small, to reinforce positive behaviours and motivate continued effort. Address performance gaps promptly and collaboratively brainstorm strategies for improvement.

  6. Adjust Goals as Needed: Remain flexible and adaptive in response to changing circumstances or shifting priorities. Regularly reassess goals and objectives to ensure their continued relevance and alignment with organizational needs. Be open to modifying goals or adjusting expectations based on feedback and evolving business requirements.

  7. Offer Opportunities for Development: Incorporate opportunities for skill development, training, and mentorship into the performance plan. Identify areas where the employee can expand their knowledge, enhance their capabilities, or develop new competencies. Provide access to resources, workshops, or coaching programs to support their professional growth and career advancement.

  8. Promote a Culture of Continuous Improvement: Encourage a growth mindset and a culture of continuous learning and improvement within the organization. Emphasize the importance of self-reflection, feedback, and learning from both successes and setbacks. Celebrate achievements and milestones while also embracing challenges as opportunities for growth and development.

  9. Prioritize employee wellness: Recognize the undeniable link between employee wellness and their performance. A well-crafted performance plan must centre on nurturing employees' physical and mental well-being to empower them to meet and exceed set targets effectively. Prioritize regular breaks and encourage the utilization of annual leave to prevent burnout and sustain motivation levels. Infuse the work environment with engaging activities that not only alleviate monotony but also foster teamwork and camaraderie, ultimately enhancing overall job satisfaction and productivity.

In today's fast-paced work environment, managing employee performance and supporting their mental health are integral components of effective leadership. By recognizing the impact of mental health issues on performance, fostering open communication, and implementing proactive strategies, organizations can create a culture that values employee well-being while driving productivity and success. Remember, a thriving workforce is built on a foundation of trust, empathy, and support for the holistic well-being of every individual.

Read Also: Have an Underperforming Employee? These 10 Things Can Help Spike Performance

Written by

Mercy Mukisa

Hey there, I'm Mercy Mukisa, a Senior HR Officer writing to you from the lively heart of Uganda. Writing is my way of contributing to the professional community, grounded in the belief that knowledge is the key to empowerment. In the dynamic field of HR, I'm not just a participant; I see it as a privilege to share the insights and experiences gathered along the way. It's not just about the job; it's a commitment to enhancing your professional journey. So, let's navigate through the pages of my articles together, aiming for a balanced and insightful exploration of empowerment and growth.

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