Feb 26

“I know I need to support my people with their mental health but I also need to get the job done”

As we continue to grapple with the challenges of leading remotely, and during a health crisis, human capital has been thrust into the spotlight. And rightly so. It needed to happen. For the main part, that has been a positive thing because businesses and leaders all over our industry have become more aware that productivity and mental wellbeing are not only interrelated, they are co-dependents.

But, one unforeseen consequence has been that leaders and line managers have inherited an unexpected quandary, which they are not often prepared for. A common question I come across in my one-to-one coaching sessions is what do I do when someone is struggling to carry out their role, when that person is under pressure and the job isn’t being done? And how can I sleep easy knowing I’m doing the right thing but also meeting business needs?   

Let me share my take on it. 

Like any other working relationship there are two parties at play here and responsibility lies on both sides, so it’s about fulfilling your leadership responsibility but also showing your people how to take accountability for themselves too. This could be:

  • As a preventative measure, encouraging accountability for mental health and regularly prompt / ask your people what they do to look after their mental health / how they self-manage and self-regulate;

  • Taking an interest to find out what is going on behind the scenes and what is causing the pressure by listening well and asking open questions;

  • Helping to establish a way forward in the first instance, perhaps by offering a sounding board, flexing workflow or other temporary changes and regularly keeping in contact and reiterating your interest;


  • Directing your person to other internal and external resources (and knowing what your internal resources / points of contact are) or other colleagues to expand their support network;


  • Knowing what to do when further signposting is needed to HR / other specialist welfare support; 

  • Role-modelling good self-management and bringing this to your team’s attention by sharing examples and experiences and encouraging others to do the same;

  • Many people also struggle to approach these difficult, and sometimes sensitive, conversations about poor mental health and a job that can’t wait. In my experience, my clients who prepare well for this meeting and who use compassion and clarity in their communication get good results. Their colleague is often relieved to have this out on the open and constructive ways forward are found.

The bottom line is that if you don’t address these circumstances, then your people will further succumb to the everyday productivity hacks of procrastination, overwhelm, worry and paralysis, which all prevent performance. In addition by ignoring or avoiding this situation, not only does the person experiencing difficulty often get worse - but a sense of inequality or unfairness can bring about unrest for those sharing the additional workload. Doing nothing and hoping things will get better by themselves is not an option.

Also remember when your people start to suffer, your clients tend to find out first.

One client said to me “I’m particularly grateful for our discussion around the role of a leader with people who are experiencing stress / difficulties. You have helped me distinguish between supporting colleagues and taking responsibility for them. That has been reassuring and has helped me rest easier.” Plc ExCo Board Member
To find out more about how to lead and support your people through dips in productivity and mental health difficulty, or have difficult conversations successfully, take a look at our R.E.A.L. Coaching Programme or arrange to meet us.
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