Category Archives: Leaders Masterclass

Legal risks vs human

What Are The Legal Risks Of Choosing A ‘Humane’ Path When Managing Performance Of Someone With A Mental Health Problem?

Legal risks vs humanI recently presented as a speaker at an ‘Employment Law for HR Managers’ Masterclass, held in Sydney. It was quite an interesting experience. First, because the focus was on employment law, whereas my specialty as a psychologist is in mental health, and also because I was engaged as a panelist, alongside three lawyers.It did make sense though – they were looking for the ‘human’ angle, wanting to balance legal considerations with what is best for the person experiencing mental health problems.

So that presented the first challenge – the legally ‘right’ thing to do is so often pitted against the morally ‘right’ thing, or at least the ‘nice’, person centred way of doing things. In fact, one of the questions asked directly reflected this:

“What are the legal risks of choosing a ‘humane’ path, when managing the performance of someone with a mental health problem?”

At that moment I thought one of the lawyers in the room was going to stand up and say “I object your honour, that question is leading the witness!” It was, after all, a leading question that makes the assumption that the humane approach may be somewhat riskier than the non-humane approach. But no, no one objected. Shame. In my opinion, a humane path reduces the legal risks, not increases it!

And let me back that up with evidence. Studies from the medical field show that patients are more likely to sue their doctor, even if the doctor didn’t actually do anything technically wrong, if their bedside manner was poor. And, on the flip side, people are less likely to sue a doctor who did make a clinical mistake, if they had a good bedside manner, showed respect, and listened to the person’s concerns. It seems we just don’t want to take legal action if the person was ‘nice!’.

Apply this back in the workplace to performance management. A ‘humane path’, a path which is compassionate towards the person, is much less likely to end in legal problems,.

But what this question reveals to me, and what became apparent at the masterclass, was that we seem to have different ideas about what a humane path looks like.

There was an underlying assumption that a humane path meant not following through on the performance management process, stalling and delaying taking any action or follow through. It’s almost as if ‘humane’ was akin to not upsetting the person at all.

I would argue that that is actually not very humane at all. You see, sometimes as managers, we think, if we’re a bit more lenient, or we make allowances for the person, they’ll appreciate it and we won’t have to face a disgruntled employee. Now I’m all for having flexibility. Flexibility is key, but when we’re talking about things which really bend the line on what’s acceptable, that’s something else. And in fact, what happens when you deviate from the agreed fair performance management process, is that it creates all sorts of confusion for the person. When a person is experiencing a mental health problem, often it can be really hard to think clearly, or to remember details, people describe it like a ‘fog’ in their thinking. That’s just one of the reasons why, for their sake, it is really important to stick to the process. Not only that, but think about what messages are being sent to the rest of the team by accepting poor behaviour or performance from one person? Here’s just a few ideas: compassion is compromise, the leader shows favouritism, lower standards are ok, the leader is weak and can’t stick to what they said, maybe if I acted like that… you see where I’m headed. What about the message being sent to the person? The person could be hearing a number of things: ie ‘if you are anxious, depressed or stressed, you can’t cope with the job’

And yes, sometimes, in extreme cases, sticking to process will mean eventually letting a person go. If they are simply not able to perform the inherent requirements of the job, or they consistently breach conduct requirements, then it can be the best thing for everyone – the business of course, but also for them, to be let go. I’ve seen way too many organisations hold jobs open for people for way too long. They’re trying to be kind, but in fact the person would be much better off in a completely different field or industry.

So what does ‘humane’ mean then? It means being compassionate in your communication towards the person, while you stick to the process! It means respecting the person, the human, even if you don’t respect their behaviour. It means allowing them dignity through the process and ensuring the process is dignified. And THAT can actually be life changing for people.

Author: Emi Golding
Emi GoldingEmmaline (Emi) Golding is a registered psychologist and Director of Psychology for the Workplace Mental Health Institute. With experience both at the frontline and in Senior Management positions within mental health services, Emi is passionate about educating and expanding people’s knowledge of mental health issues, particularly within workplaces. For her own well being, Emi loves to dance and spend time with friends. She also enjoys learning languages and travelling to new and exciting places around the world.

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pillar 3 feature image

Building a Mentally Healthy Workplace: 3rd Pillar

A lot of managers ask me ‘Pedro, how can we tell if someone REALLY has got a mental illness?’ They want to know if they are being manipulated and taken advantage of. Have you ever walked away with the feeling that someone was taking advantage of you in this area? It’s possible. And today I will show you how you can minimise these occurrences.

The secret to protect yourself and your team from manipulation and harassment claims; to boost your teams performance to unprecedented levels and get unique wisdom as to what really is going in your team relies on the application of Pillar 3 of the 7 Pillars of a Mentally Healthy Workplace.

Pillar 3 is Nothing About Me Without Me.

It is common for teams, due to the pressures of the work environment, to not quite get each other, start competing with each other detrimentally and for distrust to creep into the dynamics of the team. And Distrust is the toxic fume that Pillar 3 – Nothing About Me Without Me, focuses on. As a leader, you want to eradicate from your team any cause for distrust in your team. Both between team members and yourself. Distrust is the cancer of a high performing team. You must get rid of it. But, how do you do that?

One thing a lot of managers dont understand is that, one of the first, if not THE first, thing that suffers when people become distressed and mentally unwell is REAL TRUST in the relationship they have with their boss and with other team members. They don’t lose all trust but they lose trust that their relationship with you and others is robust enough for them to communicate openly and honestly; and they’ve lost trust that you have their back. Most managers miss this. And why wouldn’t they? They are not supposed to know, they are not Mental Health experts. By the way, this is missed by most mental health experts too! This is where Pillar 3 comes in so handy.

Pillar 3 makes the bold but well supported assertion to introduce real transparency into the way you communicate in your team. As an effective way to build trust, it says stop talking about others and bring them into the conversation from very early on.

Great advice.

Usually, when a staff member start showing signs and symptoms that something is not mentally well, many managers panic and go and talk to someone else. It is possible that it may have come to their attention because someone else raised it. And then they proceed to talk to others, maybe HR or their senior supervisor, trying to get direction on what to do. By the time the staff member with the problem is approached, very often others have had robust conversations during which decisions have been made…on the life and career of someone else not present – the staff member in distress. This doesn’t go well in building trust. Why?

Several reasons:

  • Contributes to the paranoia of the staff member: Who Else Is Talking About Me?
  • Having the person in conversations contributes to transparency
  • Its a sign of respect. Respect shows the person they are valued
  • It protects you from reaching the wrong conclusions about what is really going on. Oftentimes what is going on is not so bad and can be addressed easily if we work together as a team
  • Competency and confidence goes a long way to increase trust in your abilities; and they both get a better chance when aided with transparency

And these are just some of the very good reasons as to why creating a culture of inclusion, Nothing About Me Without Me, can have a positive impact on your attempts to create a mentally healthy culture.

Its a nice and efficient way to let your team know that you have their back and you trust them. When was the last time that happened to you? Felt good, right? That’s what we are encouraging you to do.

At our Workplace Mental Health Masterclass for Leaders, we operationalise this pillar and we show managers how to take their skills to the next level. If you’ve done this Masterclass, you know what we are talking about, right? If you haven’t, I invite you to join us for the next Workplace Mental Health Masterclass for Leaders.

I hope to see you soon and remember to be nice to each other.

– Pedro Diaz

Author: Pedro Diaz
Pedro-Diaz-authorPedro Diaz is the CEO of Workplace Mental Health Institute. He’s an author and accredited mental health social worker with senior management experience. Having recovered from his own experience of bipolar depression, Pedro is passionate about assisting organisations to address workplace mental health issues in a compassionate yet results-focussed way. He’s also a Dad, Husband, Trekkie and Thinker.

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Square businessman fitting in form

Building a Mentally Healthy Workplace: 2nd Pillar

Workplace mental health is a growing concern for many managers. Many of the traditional approaches to addressing mental health at work, are simply not working, and in some cases, are even making things worse!

In this video series, the 7 Pillars of a Mentally Healthy Workplace, we take an honest look at 7 principles, or 7 areas, that if addressed can minimise the impact of mental ill-health at work, and create a healthy and safe workplace culture that performs really well, even under high pressure situations.

Today, I will be talking about Pillar number 2 – Organisational Plasticity.

Pillar, or principle, number 2 – Organisational Plasticity helps managers like you address a Toxic Fume that often creeps into teams inadvertently, the toxic fume of the ‘Fear of Making a Mistake’.

You see, managers are expected to avoid risk at all costs these days. And that means they are looking for a definite process, that will deliver a definite result.

But when it comes to Mental Health, there is no definite solution for all employees. There is no one size fits all process to be followed.

Unfortunately, when someone becomes mentally unwell at work, most workplaces tend to apply just 2 default options – either send the person to an EAP service (that’s an employee assistance program), or send them away on leave. While these two options are a good start, they are just not enough. And the underlying message that staff can hear is go take your problem somewhere else. Now I know that’s not what is meant, but that is what some people will hear.

In our mental health workshops for managers, we educate participants about the concept of frames in mental health. A frame, is a specific way that a person makes sense of their world – their life view.

Square businessman fitting in formThat means that they come to you with an understanding, and an explanation, of what life is about, what is happening for them, and what needs to be done, that might be completely opposite to yours.

Our workplaces, and indeed our society right now favours the Medical and Psychological frames. That is why, when someone is unwell, most workplaces encourage the person to seek medical help, or counseling (usually through EAP). But not everyone views mental health through these lenses.

And this is important because your colleague is going to access the help they need through their preferred frame, not yours. And, if they are to recover, they will do so by taking steps through their preferred frame.

If we, as managers or as organisations, push our own frame onto the person, the likely result will be one of conflict, resistance and, in some cases, complaints of harassment and/or bullying.

So what can we do? Firstly, we need to find out the persons Frame – their preferred explanation of what is happening. Once you know their frame, you know what motivates them, now you are ready to elicit solutions from them and get better outcomes. We talk more about how to do this in our Workplace Mental Health Masterclass for Leaders course.

And what can we do as organisations? We need to be willing to be very flexible in our approach, and provide a range of possible solutions & supports for people to access.

Now, this can be difficult for managers, and when faced with a complicated mental health situation, many feel out of their depth. And that’s to be expected. After all, managers are trained in management, not in mental health or psychology. Why would we expect them to be experts in this area?

But because of that unknown, more often than you think, managers hope that the problem will go away and, when it doesn’t, they do what we all do in difficult situations: overreact and become rigid, even controlling. Why? Because we fear making a mistake that will hurt our reputation and we become defensive.

Instead of becoming very rigid in our approach, we need to do just the opposite, open up to alternative solutions, that are chosen by the individual. These are the ones that are most likely to work – getting the best outcomes for the person involved, the whole team, and the business.

How else can we demonstrate this second pillar – Organisational Plasticity?

Make sure that you engage your team in coming up with a variety of honest and truly flexible arrangements that encourage wellbeing in your teams. This can be a very useful & healthy exercise for all, especially if everyone can benefit, regardless of whether they have a mental illness or not. Or course, this doesn’t mean that anything goes. We understand that these Authentically Flexible arrangements will, out of necessity, vary from one organisation to another. But these are a great start.

The other thing you can do is to make sure you get to be known by your team as someone able and willing to adjust and adapt as necessary. Someone able to let go of old ways and embrace new ways. This will build the trust you need to build a great team that has fun and enjoys good mental health – while also performing at high levels! ☺

And there you have it, Pillar number 2 Organisational Plasticity – address the fear of making a mistake that creeps into teams when it comes to mental health and encourage authentic & flexible arrangements as a way to build trust.

I hope you enjoyed this video. I wonder if it would be ok with you that I ask that you share this video with other managers or HR and WHS professionals that you think might benefit. Thank you. Bye for now ☺

– Pedro Diaz

Author: Pedro Diaz
Pedro-Diaz-authorPedro Diaz is the CEO of Workplace Mental Health Institute. He’s an author and accredited mental health social worker with senior management experience. Having recovered from his own experience of bipolar depression, Pedro is passionate about assisting organisations to address workplace mental health issues in a compassionate yet results-focussed way. He’s also a Dad, Husband, Trekkie and Thinker.

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Leaders Masterclass

5 Signs You May Have a Mentally Ill Team Member

A certain amount of stress is normal, even desirable, in the workplace.  But there are some red flags that point to a mental illness.  Here are the 5 signs to look for:

Workplace Mental Health Masterclass for Leaders in Australia

  • Getting into arguments with co-workers over trivial matters
  • Reacting to disappointing news or events with angry outbursts
  • Going out of their way to avoid people, or changing the subject when asked if they’re ok
  • Difficulty completing tasks that previously they’d have no trouble with
  • General irritability and prickliness

These behaviours not only affect the performance of the person, but they cause disruption and conflict in the team.

If you’re faced with managing mental illness in the workplace, we’re running a 1 day Leaders Masterclass in capital cities very soon.  Click here for dates: Workplace Mental Health Masterclass for Leaders in Australia

We’ll teach you exactly what to do and what to say to help someone who’s struggling with mental illness become a high performer.

Author: Pedro Diaz
Pedro-Diaz-authorPedro Diaz is the CEO of Workplace Mental Health Institute. He’s an author and accredited mental health social worker with senior management experience. Having recovered from his own experience of bipolar depression, Pedro is passionate about assisting organisations to address workplace mental health issues in a compassionate yet results-focussed way. He’s also a Dad, Husband, Trekkie and Thinker.

Connect with Pedro Diaz on:
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Workplace Mental Health Institute