Managers are the initial point of contact for most employees, and hence have an added responsibility to watch out for the physical and emotional wellness of their team members.
With work from home making it difficult to see and gauge what a person may be facing and the nerve-wracking uncertainty unleashed by the pandemic, many employees are suffering with mild to severe mental health issues. And managers now find themselves grappling on how to handle the unfolding situation.
Take Neha and Pramit’s case for example.
Neha was frustrated with her team member Pramit’s tardiness. To top it off, all the data he submitted seemed prone to errors every single time.
He would apologize profusely, promising not to repeat it; though never offering reasons for it.
Did he not take her seriously enough? Or was he not interested in working? Probably late-night partying?
She couldn’t place a finger on the reason for his unusual behavior.
At the end of her tether, Neha felt it was time for an honest chat.
One-on-one, she asked – ‘Is something troubling you, Pramit? Is there anything you want to talk about?’
She was half-expecting him to say nothing, like earlier.
Quite unexpectedly, Pramit confessed. He had inadvertently caused a fire accident years ago at his home.
While he escaped unscathed, his younger sister barely did. Despite the years rolling by, she still bore the physical scars of the disaster. It haunted Pramit in his sleep, and he landed up late every morning to work.
The quality of his work suffered as a result.
Neha realized that a storm was brewing inside Pramit, and there was nothing to calm it down. She guided him towards utilizing the Employee Assistance Program (EAP) services offered by the organization. She also made it clear that she was there for him if he needed any help.
But what else should she say? Despite being a seasoned manager, she didn’t know. She reached out to HR for help.
This situation is not uncommon.
A similar script is playing out in different forms across many organizations. A global survey conducted by Qualtrics, states that ‘40.5% of executives and 44% of other staff self-reported a decline in mental health soon after the lockdowns started.’
In India, mental health issues are further complicated by the fact that it is considered a stigma or taboo to own up to the fact that you’re suffering from such an issue. We don’t have very relevant data and if available, will largely cater to specific subsets of the population instead of the population at large. Treatment is also constrained due to the high costs associated with it; with help from a licensed professional costing anywhere upwards of Rs. 1500.
Here are the three things Managers must do if a team member suffers from a mental health issue.
- Stay empathetic, and be alert.
In a session organized by KelpHR, Dr. Quddusa Doongerwala, MD & an experienced psychiatrist, shares that ‘Managers are at the forefront of noticing changes in employees,’ especially during the pandemic. She states that it is the Manager’s responsibility to stay alert and empathetic. They must attempt to understand what the employee is going through rather than instantly pressurize or brand them as low performers.
If the reason is related to mental health and they appear open to receiving help, managers can guide them to a counsellor or the EAP program offered by the organization.
- Be equipped to deal with sensitive situations.
Managers must equip themselves to deal with sensitive situations. Committing a faux pas by saying the wrong thing at the wrong time even unknowingly, can set off an unintended and detrimental effect on an employee suffering from a mental health issue.
- Stay abreast of common mental health issues
- Reach out to HR with regards to a specific situation
- Understand the company’s policy on flexibility to be extended to an employee with mental health issues
- Reach out to the EAP Counsellor for inputs on how to deal with such employees
- Reiterate to the employee that the counselling session will be conducted in a confidential manner between the employee and the counsellor.
They can also help the employee with:
- Structure and visibility on work assignments without overwhelming them
- Adequate options to foster social relationships at the workplace even in the WFH scenario
- Give positive reinforcements for work that is completed
- Give assignments that match their strength, if possible
- Regularly check-in with team members.
Mental health issues impact cognitive reasoning. Managers need to check-in regularly with the team member suffering, to assess if they find the work assigned to them achievable, and if not reassign it or give them some time to be able to turn it around depending on the urgency.
They also need to exhibit their availability for someone wanting to talk to them.Admittedly, none of this is easy. Minding the gap now calls for more effort and time from the manager. Yet, the good news is that managers are rising to the challenge. The survey by Qualtrics also states that the crisis has forced ‘Managers to be the kind of managers people always wanted, which is really caring about their team’s welfare, and really listening.’
While it has taken a pandemic to bring us to this moment of providing mental health with the attention it deserves, organizations find themselves in a situation with no precedence. They must chart a new course alongside experts in counselling.
We at KelpHR, help organizations and have experts on board to deal with this fast unravelling situation around mental health, through our Counselling and Employee Assistance Programs.
Do reach out to firstname.lastname@example.org or call us at +91-95001-29652 for more information around our counselling and Employee Assistance Programs (EAP) for both individuals and organizations.
For any of our other services related to Prevention of Sexual Harassment (PoSH) or Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (D, E&I), do get in touch with us and we’d be able to help you with customised offerings suited to your organisation.