Skip to main content

How does your people and performance management impact on mental health?

In a study published by Beyond Blue, TNS Social Research found that 91% of respondents believed mental health was important in the workplace; but only 52% felt their workplace was mentally healthy.

One in five Australians (21%) reported they had taken time off work in the previous 12 months because they felt stressed, anxious, depressed or mentally unhealthy. This statistic was more than twice as high (46%) among those who consider their workplace mentally unhealthy (State of Workplace Mental Health in Australia).

Most employees are very reluctant to reveal mental health issues to their employer. Often mental health issues only come to light when an employee reports they are unable to attend work because they are being bullied by another person (or people) in the workplace.

It is also common, that when an employee does make such a claim, the employer becomes aware that the employee is being “Performance Managed”.

So what is the difference between Performance Management and Bullying?

Many times when I have been asked to assist in “performance managing” an employee, it becomes clear that they actually don’t like their job. They are not bad people, or incompetent; they have just found themselves in a rut and feel they cannot escape.

Instead of continuing with the performance management, it can be better to help that person move on to a different job. Having an impartial third party counsel the employee on the practical aspects of changing jobs – or even careers – can immediately improve the employee’s (and often their manager’s) mental health.

There are also some employees who will effectively hijack a genuine Performance Management process with a claim of Bullying. Good Performance Management practices will protect an employer from such claims. If the Manager is competent, and your systems are effective, you should be able to demonstrate this.

However, managers who have not received good training in Performance Management can inadvertently turn what should have been a legitimate performance issue into a valid bullying claim. Becoming angry, publicly berating, isolating or excluding the employee in response to poor performance, can give rise to a valid claim of Bullying.

And unfortunately, there are Managers who are actually Bullies and they use the term “Performance Management” as an excuse to victimise an employee.

Each of us needs to be able to recognise the difference. Most people need external assistance to be able to determine whether a bullying complaint is genuine, and to plan the best way to deal with the consequences.

It is vital to make no assumptions; it is essential to be impartial. It is just as dangerous to assume the person accused of bullying is guilty (or not guilty), as it is to assume the person making the complaint is lying, or totally truthful. Mismanaging Bullying claims can create further mental health issues in the workplace.

I have seen many cases of genuine Bullying; and I have seen a number of cases where the complaint has been groundless. I have also seen that the truth can often lay somewhere in between.

In cases where the employee has been bullied, the consequences for the individual, and those around them, can be devastating. How an employer responds to the situation, and what they do to change their workplace, will make an enormous difference to the individual’s health, and the overall well being of the organisation.

So what should employers do?
• Have clear policies outlining expected behaviour (Discrimination, Bullying, Code of Conduct)
• Provide training to all staff in these policies
• Train all managers on effective Performance Management
• Talk openly about the standards of behaviour your organisation expects
• Seek expert advice

And as an individual, how do you keep yourself safe?
• Seek training in the difference between Bullying and Performance Management
• Recognise if your mental health is suffering and seek assistance to understand why
• Speak up! Talk to someone you trust at work
• Seek expert advice
• Never underestimate the power of Counselling to learn new ways of protecting your mental health

Treat mental health like physical health. If you are in pain – or you see someone in pain, don’t ignore it; seek help.