Blog - Turning problem employees into dream employees

If you’re a regular reader of this blog, you’ll know that I believe workplace wellness is much more achievable when we look after every aspect of our wellbeing. Mental health plays a vital part in productivity.

This latest post has been kindly written by Michael Hempseed, Managing Director/Behavioural expert at Employee Solution Service in Christchurch.

Michael Hempseed, Employment Solution ServicesI met Michael at a local National Speakers Association meeting and was interested to hear of the services he offers.  Given his workplace wellness focus, I felt that you may also be interested in what he has to say about depression and anxiety in the workplace.

A highly sought after professional speaker, Michael gained an honours degree in psychology from the University of Canterbury in 2008. He delivers seminars on a range of topics including overcoming failure, mental illness, stress and burnout.

Imagine turning a problem employee into a dream employee

Sooner or later every manager who employees staff will face the dreaded problem employee. They can range from someone who is a minor irritation to someone who can bring an organisation to its knees. Most managers see only two options; put up with the problem or dismiss them. My company offers a third option; turning them around.

In order to turn someone around you first need to understand what is really happening for them. Believe it or not in many cases a problem employee is not a bad employee at all. Take an example of a woman I worked with recently. She was working in a warehouse where she did almost nothing all day. The managers were becoming more and more frustrated with this employee. Customer orders were being delivered late; the other staff were feeling the burden of her lack of productivity. The managers thought they would have to fire her which would be very costly, from the legal fees to paying her out, to the cost of recruitment to the cost of retraining.

Get to the root of the problem

Talking to her, I discovered that the employee had high anxiety. She had been badly affected by the Christchurch earthquakes and consequently had a problem with enclosed buildings that did not
have an exit. This woman was working in the very back of the warehouse. I realised that she did almost nothing all day because she felt trapped and had crippling anxiety because of where she was working. I suggest she was moved from the back of the warehouse, (where she felt trapped) to the front of the warehouse where there was an exit. Following the move, she became one of the best employees the company had! By looking at and treating the real causes of her poor performance I was able to help turn her around.

A surprising large amount of problems at work are caused by unrecognised or unmanaged mental illness. Almost everyone understands a physical illness. If someone has a cold or a broken leg we give them time off work and we understand. But when someone has a mental illness we say things like “toughen up”, “just get over it”, or “drink some concrete and harden up!”

Acknowledge the power of depression and anxiety

We often say this because we do not understand what is really happening with a mental illness.  Researchers found that a part of the brain, the hippocampus (which is associated with memory and emotion) can shrink by up to 17% in patients with depression. There are physical changes that happen in the body when someone develops depression. More than changes in the brain, depression and anxiety can really change how a person acts and behaves. Many people know that an outward sign of depression is crying, and it certainly can be, but other symptoms can include anger and irritation, lack of motivation and lack of energy. With anxiety there is a well-documented link between anxiety and aggression, very often the most aggressive person in a room will be the most anxious. Depression and anxiety are the most common mental illnesses, yet they are two of the most debilitating. They can easily turn a great employee into a problem employee.

Depression and anxiety account for a staggering percentage of workplace problems and issues. In fact if it is treated and managed then people suffering from these conditions can be fantastic employees. It need not be negative and these conditions are not usually considered chronic. In most cases, with the right help, they can be improved significantly. There are so many people who have either anxiety or depression that are remarkable employees. The key difference is they manage their depression or anxiety well and/or have sought treatment.

Identifying problems and seeking support positively changes the game

The problem with mental illness is it can be hard to recognise. If you have an arm or a leg amputated then everyone will be able to see it. If you have depression or anxiety it can be almost invisible on the outside. We now know that Robin Williams suffered from depression for most of his life. On the outside he looked like one of the happiest people you would ever meet.

Steps leading up a hilly green parklandThere is a great deal of stigma around mental illness. Many people are simply afraid of someone who has something wrong with their mind. The reality is someone with anxiety or depression is seldom a threat to others. The most important thing that can be given is understanding and support. Take the example of the women in the warehouse – with the right help and support she was able to become an excellent employee.

My company specialises in identifying the real reasons an employee is under-performing, then working with the managers, other staff and employee to bring about a positive outcome for all involved. Please let me know if I can be of service.

Michael Hempseed
Managing Director, Employee Solution Service Limited.