Advice from Spill's therapists
Have an open and honest conversationAsk what they needWays to provide supportRelated resources
Help navigate difficult conversations and give employees real mental health support with Spill.

Getting help for a struggling employee

Spill's qualified therapists answer real questions from employees looking for advice about managing others.

I have an employee who I am worried about. How can I get this addressed properly and constructively?

Our first therapist suggests...

Have an open and honest conversation

You don’t say anything in your question regarding what exactly it is you are worried about.

Are you worried about them in terms of work or are your concerns related to something emotional or perhaps something outside of work?

It’s an important distinction because your approach to dealing with work related worries will necessarily be different from those that might be rooted elsewhere.

Either way the best place to start is with an open and honest conversation.

Arrange a meeting and set out clearly your concerns with examples so that your team member not only has a full understanding of what you’re concerned about but also specifically why.

Tell them that your rationale behind having the conversation is that you want to do whatever you can to help and support if it turns out that there is a problem that needs addressing. It will help your team member to be more open about what’s going on if they feel you are on their side.

If it turns out that there is something going on away from work that is affecting their performance in work be careful not to become intrusive or get too involved in the details. Ask if they are getting any support, whether you can do anything to help in that regard, or whether making any adjustments inside of work might be useful but always maintain a clear boundary between your responsibilities as their boss and straying into an area that is not your responsibility.

If any action needs to be taken make sure it is agreed and, if appropriate, written down so that you both know what each of you have undertaken to do.

Check back in regularly to see if any action agreed is having the desired effect and remain flexible enough to adjust as necessary.

Whatever you do be clear about your concerns. It saves a lot of time and reduces the likelihood of anxiety if you tell people what you’re seeing and ask them to give you their perspective.

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Our second therapist suggests...

Ask what they need

It’s hard being a manager and balancing the needs of the business with the needs of the staff, especially when people are in distress. You’re doing a great and hard job.

What can you do as a supportive other? Offer an ear and show that person you see them. Ask them what they need. We are all different with different ways of coping. Don’t assume or guess what this person needs; ask. Check-in with them (more regularly than usual), build in more time and space for them, delegate work away from them, etc. Create a psychologically safe workplace where they can tell you they’re not OK without fear of consequence and heal in a way that makes sense to them.

You mention getting their issue addressed “properly and constructively”. This makes me wonder if you have the techniques to hold a compassionate conversation with them? There is Spill training that can help with this. Or perhaps it feels too out of your depth (which is OK) so you could signpost them to someone in the company who’s more skilled, or for a chat with a therapist for more professional support.

In a wider approach, also think about the messages the employee may be receiving from their team/company with regards to mental health. How do you model ‘It’s OK to look after yourself’ or ‘It’s OK to pause/rest/stop’ or ‘We’re listening'? By doing the opposite (e.g. keep going regardless), this also implies what the company/you expect, and staff won’t feel they can ask for a break. At its worst, this message equates to “The company’s needs are greater than yours” which is not helpful to model as a truth the entire time.

More than anything though, just let them know you’re concerned about them, ask them what they need and listen to their answer.

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Our third therapist suggests...

Ways to provide support

I'm hearing that you are worried about an employee and unsure how to proceed. The following thoughts and questions should help you to reflect on this issue and decide what to do:

  • Get clear about why you are worried about the employee. What is your specific worry and is it based on evidence, assumptions or what you have heard from others? Is your concern reasonable? If you are not sure, speak to your manager for advice and a second opinion.
  • If you feel you definitely have a concern that needs to be addressed ask yourself what the ideal outcome in the situation is? What needs to change for your concern to ease?
  • Check company policies and procedures around dealing with this issue.
  • Once you are clear about the nature of your concern I would talk to the employee about it. Express your concern and why you have it. Avoid making judgments about the person, instead focus on what you have observed and the impacts. If you are not sure of something ask rather than making any assumptions. Refer to specific examples so the employee is able to understand clearly what the issue is. If you are hoping for a change in behaviour or performance let the employee know what you would like to see.
  • Make sure the employee has the tools and support they need to make any necessary changes and deal with problems. Ask them what help they think they might need.
  • Watch and wait. You can schedule check-ins with the employee as necessary to see how things are going.
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