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Managing performance concerns

When someone is experiencing a mental health issue such as depression, supportive performance management can make the difference between continued productivity and escalating performance issues.

What is performance management?

Performance management enables staff to contribute to the achievement of University goals and their own career development goals. As a manager you should be managing your staff's performance on an ongoing basis, including formal processes and regular, informal discussion. It is a key part of your communication process with your staff and can be displayed through:

  • Clarity about roles and expectations
  • Constructive negative feedback as well as positive feedback to the staff member about their performance
  • Support to the staff member in the development of their skills, knowledge and work attitudes
  • Recognising and rewarding achievements

When performance management is done well it has the ability to provide opportunities to build strong relationships between you and your staff as well as to build a culture where staff feel valued and acknowledged by their managers. Building relationships fosters a culture of information sharing and trust. Good working relationships provide managers with opportunities to identify and address issues before they escalate.

How do mental health issues impact on performance?

There is a misconception that mental health issues are solely a private matter. However, commonly staff members experiencing mental health issues are having problems both at and outside work with potentially one aggravating the other. Many managers feel that they will be perceived as being intrusive and that it is not appropriate to address these issues with their staff member. Regardless of their source the impacts that mental health issues have on a staff member's performance are the same and managers cannot afford to ignore them.

Managing under performance of staff who may be experiencing mental health issues

Managing performance issues can be stressful and challenging for managers. This may be particularly so when the staff member is experiencing a mental health issue. If, as a manager, you suspect an employee is experiencing mental health issues and it is impacting on their work, it is important that you respond accordingly and proportionally.

Many managers feel apprehensive about talking to staff about their mental health and do nothing. This often leads to the situation escalating negatively.

You may feel that you are invading the staff member's privacy, overstepping professional boundaries or simply concerned about how to manage what the staff member discloses. Remember, as a manager, it is not your role to diagnose or counsel a staff member, however you do have a duty of care to respond to any disclosure and to manage a staff member's underperformance.

It is your role as a manager to work collaboratively with the staff member to put strategies and adjustments in place so that they may continue to perform their duties effectively in the workplace.

Addressing performance concerns

Some people will experience mental health issues in the workplace regardless of how well they are managed. However preventative measures and early identification of stress or mental health issues enables managers to address concerns before they escalate:

Identify workplace triggers

In your role as manager, it is your responsibility to identify workplace triggers that may cause or contribute to a staff member experiencing a mental health issue and subsequently impact on their performance. Some of the triggers that you need to be mindful of are:

  • High pressure environment together with unrealistic deadlines or expectations
  • Continual long working hours without any "down time"
  • Unmanageable workloads and staff feeling overwhelmed
  • Isolation - people working alone
  • Negative interpersonal relationships and no communication
  • Negative workplace culture and environment
  • Lack of clarity about roles and expectations
  • Job insecurity and change management

When addressing performance concerns of a staff member who is experiencing mental health issues it is important for a manager to consider the following

  1. The personal circumstances that may be contributing to the staff member's performance issue. Is the performance issue temporary?
  2. Whether the mental health issue is contributing to the poor performance. As much as possible, attempt to explore the reasons for poor performance in the same way that you would for any other staff member.
  3. The seriousness of the performance issue under consideration, this may help determine what action you take and how urgent is the action.
  4. Whether reasonable adjustments would address and/or avoid recurrence of the particular issue or performance concern.
  5. Encourage and provide opportunity for the staff member to discuss the performance concern as they see it. This may or may not involve the staff member disclosing any mental health issues.
  6. Encourage and provide opportunity for staff to discuss how they feel the issues can be addressed and/or resolved. Provide reasonable time for the staff member to think about options and provide feedback to you
  7. Consider the staff member's strengths and develop solutions that utilise those strengths.
  8. Discuss with the staff member what they are comfortable communicating (or for you to communicate) to other members of the team.

Key things to remember when addressing under performance

It is important that you:

  • Ensure that staff are clear about their roles and what is expected of them
  • Clearly identify and assess the issue
  • Approach your concern as a workplace performance issue. Put some time into fully understanding the performance issues involved and how they are impacting on work or other team members
  • Address concerns early to prevent escalation
  • Provide enough time for staff to prepare for the meeting and allow the staff member to bring a support person
  • Be clear about your concerns with the employee and clearly outline the improvements required as well as any consequences of continued poor performance
  • Develop collaborative solutions and action plans. Commitment over compliance may be an effective strategy for managing staff that are experiencing mental health issues
  • As needed encourage the staff member to access the University's Employee Assistance Program (EAP) or other support services. Assure the staff member that meetings with an EAP provider are confidential.
  • Set a time to follow up with the staff member to review performance.
  • Document this meeting as well as any future discussions.
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