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Can I Performance Manage An Employee Who Suffers From Anxiety?

With increasing recognition that a large number of the population suffers from anxiety, feelings of insecurity and other mood disorders (at least from time to time), employers are finding it increasingly difficult to performance manage their employees for fear of conflict and in more serious cases, causing an employee to go absent claiming work related stress.

Like with every occasion of performance management, a manager must be fair, consistent and objective.  Performance managing an anxiety sufferer calls for the same approach to minimise a negative reaction – or anticipated reaction.

We advise employers all the time to ensure their position descriptions are up to date and expectations of performance are communicated clearly and regularly, this further assists when holding discussions in relation to performance concerns.

If there has been occasion where the employee can become defensive and unreasonable at the hint of criticism, it is recommended that a manager have another party present such as a HR representative to assist to diffuse the situation.

To avoid exacerbating the employee’s stress, it may be helpful to present the prospect of performance reviews as a problem solving exercise – an effort to work together to eliminate or reduce any barriers that may impact on the employee’s ability to perform to the standard expected.

Other ways to assist in the reduction of anxiety would be to raise, in general terms, any concerns of management at team or staff meetings in the weeks leading up to performance management so the discussion becomes less of a shock.

As the power imbalance between a highly anxious employee and management can be one of the more disturbing or confronting aspects of a performance discussion, it is recommended that in instances of reviewing an anxious employee, making it a two-way feedback session whereby you offer the employee time to prepare and bring feedback on what they see needs to improve, may be a way to reduce the level of anxiety in the discussion.

Again, like with all performance management meetings:-

·         Provide opportunity for the employee to prepare response and input for the meeting

·         Provide them with detail of who will be in attendance at the meeting

·         Ensure confidentiality is maintained

·         Areas of work performance that require improvement must be quantified as far as is possible, documented and followed up at regular intervals (as required) to ensure the employee is provided with the best possible chance to make improvement.

For particularly anxious or stressed employees, it may be worthwhile offering referrals to courses, programs or other resources such as an employee assistance program.

It is important to remember that as performance management discussions include negative feedback a level of anxiety can be created whether an employee suffers anxiety or other disorder or not.  This is why a consistent, fair and empathetic approach is can be conducive to better outcomes.

Information in HR Advice Online guides and blog posts is meant purely for educational discussion of human resources issues. It contains only general information about human resources matters and due to factors such as government legislation changes, may not be up-to-date at the time of reading. It is not legal advice and should not be treated as such.

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