Tips for Leaders Managing Performance and Mental Health Issues during COVID 19

I hope you are well, safe and healthy during these times, and you are all starting to see the light at the end of this very long COVID19 tunnel.  I know how wonderful it has been for me to see more of my friends and family after so long.

Lately I have been running workshops for leaders at all levels to help them lead through this crisis, because if I am brutally honest, we need damn good leaders at this time.  The workshops have been attended by over 400 leaders and sold out within 48 hours.  It just proved to me how many leaders needed support right now.

With a background in organisational psychology and many years of counselling and leadership one of my first thoughts when COVID 19 hit our shores was the worry about the impact this would have on people’s mental health.

We all know in business that mental health needs to be handled the right way, so how do you then manage under performance issues complicated by mental health problems.  Well that is a question I have been asked over 30 times in the last 6 weeks.

We all know prevention is better than cure so often I am making sure the leaders are providing the right training, communication is high, coaching is consistent and concerns about performance and behaviour are addressed informally at a very early stage.

When I question leaders at a deeper level, I often find there are a couple of mistakes they are making:

1. The reasons for poor performance are not explored well, even when mental health issues are suspected. 

2. They are not sure how to handle it so delay it or avoid it

3. They assume the employee is using mental health as an excuse.

I have heard many stories of leaders not addressing the problem and the result is the “problem behaviour” becoming worse and/or people taking sick leave. 

Here are some recommendations for managing performance and mental health issues:

1. As soon as you notice something different with your staff – performance, results or behaviour.  Make a time to sit down and have a conversation.  Tell them what you have noticed and that you are there to support them and help them

2. In all cases attempt to explore the reasons for poor performance.  Here are two questions to ask:                           
             – How are you feeling about your work lately?
             – What barriers are you facing in performing at your best?

3. If an employee discloses a mental health problem, consider, and agree on any reasonable adjustments and how these might be implemented.

4. Know what resources and support are available in the business and outside the business and encourage their use – share it with the entire team or business. 

5. Use a framework to have these conversations. “Confront the Issue Conversation Model” is perfect.  Here is a PDF with some scripting to help have that conversation.             

It’s important to remember as a leader you are not a counsellor, so make sure you know how you can help them, they know how they can help themselves and they reach out to their support network as often as they need.

I understand as a leader it can be draining and frustrating dealing with underperformance but lean in now, please don’t shy away from the conversation. 

Learn the skills to having these conversations (it won’t be your first nor your last as a leader).

As a leader, this is a skill you will be grateful that you developed.

I would love to hear what other ways you are managing these issues, so reach and let me know.

Check out the “Confront the Issue Conversation Model” and reach out to me if you want to chat about how we can help you and your team be an inspirational leader.

Stay safe, keep healthy and be kind.


Ps: it’s important to note that poor mental health does not equate to poor performance…

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Kylie Denton

Kylie Denton

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