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The Great-West Life Assurance Company, London Life Insurance Company and The Canada Life Assurance Company have become one company – The Canada Life Assurance Company. Discover the new Canada Life

The Great-West Life Assurance Company, London Life Insurance Company and The Canada Life Assurance Company have become one company – The Canada Life Assurance Company. Discover the new Canada Life

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Workplace well-being: Recognizing and approaching issues

Key takeaways

  • Wellness at work can help improve productivity, creativity, job satisfaction and retention.
  • Recognize when an employee’s health impacts work.
  • There are ways to have healthy conversations to support your employees.

Recognize potential health issues

You’ve likely seen this enough to know that every employee can affect and influence your workplace environment and the success of your organization. Proactive interest in the well-being of employees makes good business sense. 

But what if you notice an employee isn’t their usual self at work? Collaboration between you and the employee is vital in these situations. 

Here are signs that could show an employee’s health is a concern:

  • Decreased productivity
  • Apparent lack of interest
  • Stops contributing new ideas
  • Reluctant to take part in team meetings
  • Avoids new assignments
  • Repeated errors or errors in judgment
  • Increased absenteeism
  • Frequent lateness
  • Struggles to meet deadlines or targets
  • Disruptive mood swings
  • Appears tired or distracted
  • Avoids eye contact
  • Avoids going on camera if working virtually
  • Often leaves their workstation for no clear reason
  • Emotional outbursts or “flat” emotions
  • Physical expressions of pain or sadness such as wincing, limping or crying
  • Other changes in appearance or behaviour

Be careful not to make assumptions 

The changes you notice can have many causes. They could be due to workplace issues, a lack of engagement, dissatisfaction, family or personal problems. They could also be the effect of a medical condition causing physical pain, concentration problems, mood instability or fatigue. 

Different health issues can cause different challenges at work.

Prepare for a discussion with your employee

To share your concerns, show your interest in their well-being and your support. Start by reflecting on these questions:

  • What’s your goal for the discussion? Your goal may be to show support and understand the change, or it may be the change has become a more significant problem that creates a performance issue you need to address.

  • What are the changes? What did you notice? When? Think about specific examples and facts. Try to establish a timeline. Were the changes sudden or more gradual? The more specific, the easier it’ll be to explain your observations to the employee and for the employee to relate to what you’re saying.

  • Do the changes coincide with other changes at work? Think about what was happening at work when the changes started and what’s happening now. Consider potential triggers such as conflicts between colleagues, a change in supervisor or changes to the work duties and expectations.

  • Is work performance affected? Review performance metrics, complaints, quality reviews, behaviour, etc. If performance is an issue, be clear on what expectations or goals aren’t being met. Be prepared to explain the impact on customers or clients, sales and team morale, as appropriate. 

Be ready to explain your expectations for the future in clear and actionable terms for the employee.

Your previous experience with this employee will also help ensure you take the right approach to the conversation because you can anticipate the employee’s reactions.

  • Have you had difficult conversations with them in the past?
  • How are they likely to respond to your observations and questions?

Make a list of resources your employee can access for support for your discussion with contact information for things like: 

  • Your employee assistance program
  • Your extended health benefits program
  • A local mental health crisis hotline
  • A local walk-in clinic
  • Your occupational health representative
  • Your designated human resources professional 

Get another opinion

If you work for an organization with a human resource department, review your thoughts with them. You could also talk it through with another leader in your company or an external consultant, being mindful to protect your employee’s privacy. 

These can sometimes be difficult conversations. Sharing with someone else can help you gain perspective and will also support your own mental health.

Choose the right time and place

Set aside enough time to have a meaningful, focused exchange that’s free of distractions. Find a private, quiet location for the discussion and ensure the employee has privacy. Make sure you’re not distracted by your phone or email. 

It’s important for the employee to feel they have your full attention. 

Having the conversation 

Here are some examples of what you can say to keep the conversation on track:

  • Express concern about your employee’s wellness and your willingness to support them. I’ve noticed you seem distracted lately and I’m concerned. I’d like to talk about that, if you’re open to it, and we can discuss ways to support you.
  • Invite the employee to talk by asking open-ended questions in a non-threatening and non-judgmental tone. Have you noticed these changes in yourself? How have you been feeling lately? What do you think about…? What do you think is contributing to this? 
  • Listen carefully and don’t try to fill in silences. Summarize what the employee says often and verify your understanding. You said you’re having trouble focusing because you have too many timelines to meet, is that correct? You find clients complain more than they did in the past and this makes you feel frustrated, did I get that right?
  • Outline the impact to their work performance in an objective and measurable way. I’ve noticed you missed three of your four deadlines lately. How can we work together to ensure you meet your deadlines in the future? Two of your major clients have called me in the last three weeks to complain about service. They said you haven’t returned their calls within 24 hours.
  • Let the employee bring forward suggestions on what could help them. Tell me what you think would help you be successful in the future. What do you think we could do to make this work for you? Listen and note their suggestions. 
  • Collaborate with them to brainstorm alternative solutions if needed. You say you’re tired in the morning and suggest changing your work schedule. Let’s discuss that and other options that may help you. Can you think of easier tasks you could start your day with? You said you want to stop handling the ABC account because you have too much work. Let’s look at all your accounts together and see if we can make your workload more manageable. 
  • Be careful! An employee shouldn’t be asked for details about their medical condition or treatment, but they should be encouraged to engage in a conversation about their ability to function at work. Ask about their limitations and restrictions (what they can or cannot safely do) and ask them to contribute by offering solutions they think would work for them.  

The importance of patience 

Many medical conditions can affect an employee’s communication style. They may appear slowed down, more agitated, or become overly emotional. They may need more time to collect their thoughts and think of solutions.

You may also want more time to request support from your human resources department, or you may want to gather other information. You can schedule a follow-up meeting or offer a temporary solution for a few days while you work things out. 

If the employee has requested a complex or long-term accommodation, you may need more information from them and time to think about the impact on the workplace. 

What's next?

Let Canada Life help you keep your employees at work. We can assess the validity and duration of an accommodation request, suggest viable and realistic accommodation solutions and support your employee with a treatment plan that’ll help them recover their health .

The information provided is accurate to the best of our knowledge as of the date of publication, but rules and interpretations may change.  

This information is general in nature, and is intended for informational purposes only. For specific situations you should consult the appropriate legal, accounting or tax advisor.

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