As a manager, there is a fine line between being concerned and becoming too involved; between parenting and managing.
All employers have a duty of care to ensure the physical and psychological wellbeing of their staff at work. However, with work now extending to the home environment for many employees, the line between work and home is more blurred than ever.
The main priority is to ensure that the people you employ are physically and mentally able to do the job you have hired them to do. If they are not, you do need to follow a process to firstly establish why they can’t do the job and secondly what options you have available to you.
The red flags all over this issue is a discrimination claim on the grounds of a disability – this could be physical or psychological. Some employers will refuse to ask anyone about their ailments in case they are told something they need to respond to! They prefer not to ask in the hope that if there is a claim against them, they can legitimately say they had no idea the person had a disability and therefore could not have been discriminating against them. To rely on this fact is a fallacy and a dangerous defence which is likely to result in a lost claim. If someone has lied to you, or purposely not revealed important information because they were concerned it would make them unsafe to do their role, then the is obviously a completely different situation.
Let’s work on the basis that an employee is beginning to struggle at work and you are not aware of any reason why this would be the case and they have always performed well in the past.
The first step is to ask them what is going on. This is an informal conversation between the employee and their line manager in which the line manager must express their concerns and ask open questions to establish what is going on.
The answers may range from financial problems to marital issues and from personal health concerns to concerns about family members. At this stage, your job is to listen, to ask open conversations and to assess the situation.
Now let’s assume that what comes out of your conversation is a personal health issue which is affecting them. Time for more questions. How long has it been going on? What have you done about it? Who have you spoken to? Can you give me examples of how you think this is affecting your work? What can we do to support you?
It is that last question which is key…… What can we do to support you? What do you need from us?
It doesn’t mean they are going to get it, but at least you know what they would like you to do.
If they have a bad back, it may be that you need to do a work station risk assessment which could result in a new chair or a different mouse.
If they reveal that they have been diagnosed cancer, ask about what time off they need and discuss paid vs unpaid options in line with your company policy. I urge you to stick to your policies whatever the situation, as failure to do so could make matter more difficult further down the line or lead to discrimination claims from other staff.
The chances are an employee who has a life limiting or life changing illness will welcome the chance to speak, but will feel guilty about letting you and the team down. This is where you need to demonstrate empathy and support. Don’t worry about your workload – that’s my problem not yours. Your job will be here when you are ready to come back (even if you need to hire a temp to cover the work short term).
If the employee is concerned about an illness, but hasn’t spoken to anyone about it, your role is to encourage them to seek the right help. You can’t force them to go to their GP, but you can support them to do so. Perhaps give them time off to attend an initial appointment. Perhaps let them use your office for a confidential call – some GP practices have really inconvenient opening hours and you can only book an appointment if you call between 9 and 12 and therefore just allowing someone to make the call can be a huge help.
You then need to be careful. You can’t parent. You can’t nag.
Great questions to use are:
- Is there anything we need to be aware of?
- How can we support you?
- Are there any reasonable adjustments which the doctor suggested?
It may be that you need to ask permission to write to the GP to get a report and recommendations. It may be that once you have the report that you decide an occupational health (OH) assessment is required. The aim of all of this is to support the employee to attend work and perform appropriately.
If the employee refuses to talk to you, doesn’t permit you to write to the GP and refuses to attend an OH appointment, then you may need to start a capability process. It may be that what comes out of the doctors report is that the employee is not able to do the job for which they were hired, in which case you may need to look for suitable alternatives or terminate employment (following a legal process), but you can only do this once you have exhausted other options.
You are not a counsellor. You are not a GP. You do not have a fairy wand.
You are a manager. You have a business to run. You have a duty of care.
Do not take the weight of the world on your shoulders.
Care, but don’t get too involved.
Identify the problem and ensure that you encourage them to get the help and support they need from the right medical professionals.