Traditional performance management usually involves interaction between a manager and an employee. Focusing on correcting the problem may work sometimes, but more often than not the root of the issue is more complex and needs a different kind of attention – the slowed-down conversation. When an employee is experiencing fatigue, difficulty concentrating, agitation, lack of confidence—or any other change in sense of well-being—it is possible that there may be a mental health or addiction issue present. A manager’s job is not to find out if there is a behavioral health issue, but rather to work together in collaboration with the employee to help them be successful at work.
This requires slowing down the conversation. A manager needs to be fully present which may require some preparation. All outside distractions, baggage from the past and even dislike of the employee need to be recognized, so that the manager can step back from assumptions. Only then can they effectively listen to understand the employee’s perspective, have a vision of success and be willing and able to collaborate on solutions. This mindset allows the employee to participate in the conversation because the employee feels valued, heard and understood.
Inside the slowed-down conversation, the manager takes the role of a coach to gain insight about the employee’s perspective using a needs-based functional approach: What are you struggling with most? What are your strengths? What does success look like for you? What gives you energy? What takes away energy?
Then we explore the different types of needs.
- Practical needs: work station, equipment, scheduling.
- Process needs: communication, work structure, team culture, feedback methods.
- Person needs: are the employee’s needs for accomplishment, recognition, connection, fairness, inclusion (and other relevant needs) being met?
What the manager and employee uncover together will help them collaborate on effective solutions. The solutions will not be found in a list or manual—they are found through this meaningful dialogue. The solutions may involve development of a formal accommodation due to the employee having a disability of a mental health or addiction disorder. However, often it is possible for managers and/or HR personnel to create minor modifications that do not require a formal accommodation.
An employee may not feel safe in sharing that they have a disability of a mental health or addiction disorder. Employees who have behavioral health issues are often discriminated against through termination, being passed over for opportunities for advancement and through general social isolation due to being seen as different and not valued. Fortunately, an employee’s disclosure is not necessary for a manager to notice that an employee is struggling, approach and have a slowed-down conversation.
Investing the time to really listen to the employee from a needs-based perspective can help alleviate current problems and prevent future issues from arising. Managers feel more confident and employees feel connected and valued. Everyone wins!