Hi Paul, I manage a small team and one particular employee I think must have some mental issues. She has fairly low self-esteem and seems paranoid that everyone wants to get rid of her. It's not uncommon for her to behave quite unprofessionally in meetings, either crying, shouting or walking out. I don't quite know how to handle it but feel she really needs some professional advice to deal with her problems. I am sure work is just the tip of the iceberg. I know she has no immediate family. It's difficult to raise her behaviour with her without her perceiving it as an attack or threat that she may be sacked. It is affecting the whole dynamic of the team with people tiptoeing round her or get equally frustrated with her outburst. I'd really appreciate your advice.
Managing staff is a big responsibility, and it's not made easier when someone you supervise exhibits troubled or inappropriate behaviour in the workplace. From what you describe, the situations at your workplace are not only highly upsetting for the person involved, they are also frustrating and distressing for colleagues and yourself too. The behaviour is not necessarily related to a mental health problem, of course, and only a suitably-qualified health professional can make a diagnosis. Nevertheless it is good that you want to help and retain the employee, and this needs to be seen in the context of productivity and the effect on others in the workplace too. There should be no need for people to feel they have to 'tiptoe around' another staff member, while at the same time that staff member needs to be treated in a fair and sympathetic manner in any disciplinary measures.
An employee's health (mental or physical) is a private matter, and only concerns the employer if it has an impact in the workplace. If you have valid concerns about someone's productivity or behaviour which has an impact on others, then you have every right to raise this as a supervisory issue. Ensure that any concerns are documented and can be concretely stated. You can emphasise to the person that you want to be supportive with any issues which they are dealing with, but that you need to ensure that the team works productively and smoothly. If unreasonable disruption of meetings is the concern, for example, then focus on dealing with what actually happens and how you can work together so that these incidents do not happen in future. You do not need to allude directly to mental health problems (which many not exist or be relevant anyway), but it is reasonable to remind the person that you have an EAP (Employment Assistance Program), if available, and that they can discuss any health or emotional problems with their GP if necessary.
See the www.sane.org for details of the SANE Guide to the Workplace which contains helpful advice for situations such as this, or call the Helpline on 1800 18 SANE (7263). See also www.mindfulemployer.org for details of this new program which promotes good management of mental health issues in the workplace.