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Humanising performance management: part 3 – mental health

Last time, we looked the effects of ongoing burnout and what line managers and HR professionals can do to support their teams.

But so often, burnout can turn into ill mental health. In times of change, whether personal, professional, or even global, those struggling with their mental health can often find many seemingly simple tasks incredibly difficult.

Managing performance and managing mental health come hand in hand. The two are so intertwined that for many people having to actively manage their mental health on a day-to-day basis, how they are coping from one day to the next can completely change the way they work.

So this week, we’re taking you through some ways to help your people manage their mental health, alongside the performance management process, and what you can do for them when things get bad.

6 ways to support an employee struggling with their mental health
When it comes to the workplace, it can be difficult to feel entitled to your feelings. People who struggle with their mental health often feel a sense of shame, on top of everything else, about how their feeling and sometimes their lack of ability to show up in the way that is expected.

One of the best ways to create a healthy and safe environment for your people is to make sure they know they have the permission to feel their feelings. Below are a few suggestions of how HR and line managers on an individual level can begin that conversation.

1. Ask how they are feeling – and listen to the answer

It is really simple, and the phrase “how are you?” has become such a standard start to conversations that it can seem shallow. Make sure that when you ask your people how they’re feeling, they know you really mean it. It’s also important to normalise this at the start of any performance check-in or 1:1, so your people know it’s ok to be honest about how they are doing.

People won’t always want to share, and that is ok. But if they do, invite them to say more if they feel comfortable doing so. Often, people struggling with their mental health want to feel heard, and this is your perfect chance to offer that.

2. Avoid language or patterns of shame

This can be a company-wide problem, or an issue with phrasing from a specific individual. As mentioned earlier, people struggling with mental health issues will likely already have a great sense of shame over how they’re feeling.

Phrases like “we’re all in the same boat”, “other people have it worse”, or constant suggestions for how to fix things can put someone who is already struggling under a lot of pressure, or worse, make them feel like they don’t have permission to feel bad.

Simple things like your organisation’s approach to sick leave can also have a big impact here. Creating an atmosphere of resentment rather than openness to recovery when it comes to sick leave can be incredibly damaging. With many countries in lockdown and many working from home, the obligation to present regardless of how we’re feeling can put strain on your people’s mental health and wellbeing.

3. Allow them to prioritise their health over productivity

If you know someone is struggling, one of the simplest ways to help, if it is available to you, is to ease their workload. Are you able to bring someone else in to help, or perhaps extend their deadlines? Allowing your people to prioritise their health – mental and physical – over their productivity is vital to ongoing wellbeing.

Also, especially while so many of us are working remotely, no one likes a micromanager. Micromanaging is proven to decrease productivity, elevate stress, and increase the chances of burnout. One of the best ways to manage this is to actively encourage line managers to prioritise wellbeing over productivity in their regular check ins.

4. Understand how hard it can be to show up

Sometimes, showing up is travelling for two hours to go to the office, or it’s working in a public-facing job full of people. Sometimes it is simply moving from one room in your house to another, setting up a makeshift desk, and trying your best to focus.

At the moment, there has to be a level of flexibility when it comes to productivity, whether your people are struggling to manage their mental health or not. But showing up doesn’t just have to mean being physically present. Being mentally present can feel impossible for someone struggling with their mental health, so be patient and ask how you can support them.

5. Don’t guess – ask what support they need from you

This brings us on to the next point – one of the most important things to do for someone when they are struggling isn’t to assume what they need, or to fix everything for them. Simply ask – how can I support you? Is there anything I can do to help? Or, even better, “what do you need from me?”.

The answer may very well be, “I don’t know”. But, putting the question out there, and allowing the person struggling to feel more in control of how this plays out, will help them feel supported and know that the option to ask for help is there if they need it.

6. Prioritise mental health as much as physical health

Mental and physical health have an equal impact on our personal and working lives. We have taken great strides in the last few years to bring mental health to the forefront, but the cultural transition here can be a slow one. And that’s ok, as long as it’s moving in the right direction.

Did you know, for example, that presenteeism (the pressure and need to be present even when ill) costs organisations more than absence? You can find more information about that and other statistics in the TED Talk linked in the resources section below.

Resources for further reading/watching

As many as 1 in 3 people will suffer with ill mental health in their working life. People are what keeps any organisation ticking, so if you want to know more about how to manage your own mental health and how to support others in and out of the workplace, we’ve added a few resources below

[Website] Mental Health at Work

[Video] What to say to someone who’s struggling

[Video] What not to say to someone who’s struggling

[Video] Getting help and setting an example

[Video] TEDx Talk – All you need to know about mental health in the workplace


Although mental health is incredible complex, the best way to help is simple. Allow your people the permission to speak about mental wellbeing and normalise the conversation. Mental health is already stigmatised, the last thing someone struggling needs is pressure to be present, fear of not being heard, or worst, fear of being ousted due to something they cannot control.

As HR professionals, line managers, and business leaders, it if your responsibility to set an example and create a safe and open working environment.


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Written by Claire Moloney

Claire is an enthusiastic and meticulous content writer whose passion is to support growth and continual learning for everyone.


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