We’ve all worked with people who are, to put it politely, difficult to get along with. The easy and not quite so polite response is to simply dismiss them as jerks. But what if this surface behaviour is evidence of something deeper going on, some reason they’re acting the way they are? Perhaps we need to give them the benefit of the doubt and recognize that poor behaviour is often a symptom of a serious underlying issue. And if we’re in management, it’s our responsibility to go farther.
What is some behaviour we may see on the surface? Lateness. Withdrawal. Mood swings. Emotional outbursts. Are these simply signs of a poor employee who should be dismissed as soon as possible? Maybe not.
The person may be in the midst of a divorce or separation. Or they could be facing a serious health issue, their own or that of a loved one. They may be struggling with financial or legal stress. Or they may be facing bullying, at work or at home.
The root of the problem could go even deeper.
A report published in the journal BMC Psychiatry notes that “the prevalence of mental disorders is so high that virtually everyone in the community can be expected to either develop a mental disorder themselves or to have close contact with someone who does.” That close contact could be with our own coworkers. If it is, as managers we have a responsibility to our company, but most of all to our fellow human beings, to help our coworkers get the resources they need to cope with their problems.
What can we do to help? It’s not necessary – nor is it advisable – to pry into the employee’s personal life; we should be willing to listen, but we shouldn’t insist they talk. Often, we can help best by giving the individual the tools they need to help themselves. One way we can do this is by implementing a mental health first aid program for our company.
Besides displaying simple human kindness, there are extraordinary financial benefits. A report by PricewaterhouseCoopers found that “through the successful implementation of an effective action to create a mentally healthy workplace, organizations, on average, can expect a positive return on investment (ROI) of 2.3. That is, for every dollar spent on successfully implementing an appropriate action, there is on average $2.30 in benefits to be gained by the organization.”
What should a mental health program include? Mega Health At Work’s 2-day Mental Health First Aid Workshop is an excellent example. It teaches participants how to recognize common mental health problems and equips them with procedures and resources for responding appropriately. It addresses first aid skills for situations such as substance overdose, suicidal behaviour, panic attacks, acute stress reactions, and psychotic episodes.
For those who can’t attend the 2-day training, Mega Health offers a specialized 3-hour workshop, What Supervisors and Managers Need to Know, that shows how to effectively recognize mental health related concerns, and how to implement a practical process for supporting all employees in the workplace.
It’s easy to dismiss our difficult coworkers and shrug them off as “not my problem.” But when we make the effort to care, we gain the satisfaction of knowing we’ve helped someone, as well as building a healthier, more inviting, and more productive workplace for everyone.