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How do you recognize someone is struggling in the workplace?

Recognize when someone is struggling

Supporting colleagues series (Roe v. Wade)

If a colleague was struggling with their mental health, would you know what to look for?

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If you answered “no”, don’t panic. No one’s expecting you to be your team’s psychologist. But you can’t ignore mental health and the effects it can have on your team.

Chances are you already work with someone experiencing mental health issues. Around 1 in 5 adults in the US experience a mental health problem.

OK, but why is this my problem?

As a manager you’re not just responsible for your team’s output. You’re responsible for their wellbeing too. Radical candor author Kim Scott once asked, after spending a large amount of time checking in with various employees “Is my job to build a great company or am I really just some sort of emotional babysitter?” Her CEO coach fired back:

“It’s called management and it is your job.”

“Most managers run away screaming from conversations around health, mental health, and emotional wellbeing. But you shouldn’t. If people aren’t getting their work done […], you have responsibility to do something about it.”


What to watch out for

There are several flags that someone may be struggling with a mental health condition at work. Here are some of the top signs to look out for:

  😠 Changes in their behavior. Are they snapping at colleagues? Is a usually chatty person now quiet and withdrawn?

  🤒 Repeated absences. Are they missing meetings or avoiding face-to-face contact? Are they taking a lot of sick days?

  😫 Lethargy or drastic change in productivity. Are they struggling to engage, or finish a project?

  😪 Tiredness. Sleep and mental health are deeply connected. Are they visibly tired?

  😒 Easily distracted. Are they struggling to concentrate?

  😨 Unable to make a decision. Are they procrastinating instead of making decisions?

  🚨 A couple of things to keep in mind:

  • We all have days when we’re stressed, or in a bad mood. The important thing is to recognize when it’s a one-off versus something more serious.
  • Mental health doesn’t discriminate. It can affect any age or gender. Anyone from the youngest intern to the top exec can struggle with their mental health.
  • Even if you spot these signs, don’t make any assumptions or label people. You don’t know what’s going on until you talk to them.

Taking time to check in

You won’t see these red flags all in one day. In fact, you may not notice any of them at all. The key is to check in with your team on a regular basis so that you can spot any changes in their behavior. The better you know them, the more you’ll know what makes them tick, and what isn’t the norm.

There are several things you can put in your diary to make sure you and your team have regular catchups. Here are a couple of suggestions…

 📆 Have a daily standup with your team. Just 15 minutes of daily face-time at the beginning of the day to talk through what you’ll achieve that day, and any blockers that are causing stress.

 📆 Weekly one-on-ones. Make your one-on-one meetings weekly, and do your best not to cancel or postpone them. This private time will help your people to open up, especially if they’re uncomfortable sharing things with teammates.

 📆 Don’t forget your remote workers. It’s easy to feel cut off if you’re not in the office every day. Include them in your standups via a video call.

🗝️ Your key takeaway

Keep an eye out for changes in behavior over time. Check in with your team regularly so that you can spot any changes, but avoid jumping to any conclusions. You’re here to support, not judge.

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