Q. I am a manager in a technology company and I am concerned about one of my employees. Two employees came to my office to say they were worried this individual as he seems more angry than usual and he recently blew up at one of them over a seemingly small issue. They wonder if they are overreacting, but he has been violent in the past at non-work events. I know that this person has been faced mental health issues. As a manager, I'm not sure what I am supposed to do. Maybe the recent incident in Newtown, CT has us all on edge and confused.
A. Tragedies like Newtown cause all of us to notice things that we might have overlooked before. It is part of the manager's job to notice changes in employee performance, attitude and behavior, including emotional outbursts. You need to have a difficult conversation with Bob, but you don't have to face it alone. You should alert your Director about your concerns and make sure your Human Resources representative knows as well. HR can be a great resource because they may have other data to consider.
I also recommend that you call your Employee Assistance Program (EAP) provider to discuss your concerns and get some coaching on the conversation. Many managers believe the EAP is only for the employee at issue, but they are a resource for management as well. I consulted Kathy Greer, Founder and Chairman of KGA about your situation. “Managers should not overlook people who are struggling or acting oddly," Kathy said. “An EAP counselor can help a manager find the right words for a conversation. For many employees, an attentive manager may be just what someone needs,” Kathy added.
Once you are ready to have the conversation, and have discussed this thoroughly with HR, use the following suggestions from Ms. Greer.
1. Gather your observations objectively. Make a list for yourself of specific incidents and behaviors. Focus on what has changed or is new behavior.
2. State your concern, and give examples and how they affect the job.
2. Be prepared for each possible reaction.
3. Remember that your goal is to open some dialog, not to diagnose the problem.
4. Tell the employee that you need his help in solving the problem.
5. Establish a timetable for follow up and stick to it.
Remember that as a manager, you can help to change a life, or save a life. Make a New Year's resolution to notice people in distress and take action.
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Patricia Hunt Sinacole is president of First Beacon Group LLC, a human resources consulting firm in Hopkinton. She works with clients across many industries including technology, biotech and medical devices, financial services, and healthcare, and has over 20 years of human resources experience.
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