my employee’s mental health is affecting her work

A reader writes:

My employee has been working with my team for nearly two years. She’s bright, friendly, willing to learn, and hard-working — when she’s well. We have a friendly relationship, and she has disclosed to me that she suffers from bipolar disorder. She has not asked for official accommodations, but she’s been taking half days once or twice a week for doctor visits. For the past four months, she’s been tired, unfocused, unorganized, and not meeting deadlines. She oversleeps and comes in late at least once a week. It’s clear to me that she’s hit a pretty severe depression spell.

None of this has been a dire issue for her work yet, but we are entering a busy period. Deadlines are going to stop being as flexible, and I need her to be more on the ball. I understand she has limited bandwidth and this is somewhat out of her control, but I also am concerned about the work. How can I balance being compassionate as she adjusts her treatment with being her boss and needing to proceed with projects?

I answer this question — and three others — over at Inc. today, where I’m revisiting letters that have been buried in the archives here from years ago (and sometimes updating/expanding my answers to them). You can read it here.

Other questions I’m answering there today include:

  • My team wants to do group interviews
  • My employees haven’t contacted me since I’ve been out for serious surgery
  • Can I tell candidates to narrow down the number of jobs they’re interested in?

{ 108 comments… read them below }

  1. ecnaseener*

    The mention of “stay for the whole presentation” in #2 is…interesting. So the group session is just to watch a presentation from the company, not even to interview anybody?

    If so, that’s an easy fix…send it out ahead of time or link it in the job posting. Don’t waste in-person time on it.

    1. The Person from the Resume*

      … since they have to sit through the presentation and also wait for others to get their personal interviews, they could be in our office for hours.

      No the group/cattle call includes one-on-one interviews, just not a scheduled personal interview time.

      1. Kevin Sours*

        No reason you can’t schedule those separately if the presentation is just a video. But I got the impression it was a live presentation (if only because my brain was trying to make sense of it).

        But, honestly, you must watch this video before your interview is a little off putting. The vibe of “we don’t want to put any effort into the interview process we don’t absolutely have to” implies you want to fill disposable jobs with disposable employees. Especially when saving effort on your part puts it on the candidate.

    2. Antilles*

      As I interpreted it, the day would look like vaguely similar to speed-dating where you basically start with a brief intro then start swapping interviews every so often:
      -Step 1: Candidates X, Y, and Z all simultaneously come in and sit through the X-hour video presentation of Why Our Company Is Great.
      -Step 2: Andy takes Candidate X in for an interview, Bob takes Candidate Y in for a separate one-on-one interview, Charlie takes Candidate Z for a one-on-one interview, etc. All of these interviews are timed to take about the same length of time (let’s call it 30 minutes).
      -Step 3: Candidates swap, so Andy now does a 30-minute sit-down with Y, Bob with Z, and Charlie with X.
      -Steps 4 through ???: Candidates continue to swap interviewers until everybody has met with everybody.

      That said, if I was one of the candidates and showed up to see a bunch of other people interviewing for the same job with a “presentation”, I would immediately assume it’s a scam and start walking briskly towards the exit.

      1. Tracy Flick*

        Yeah – either a scam or a company so utterly clueless about interviewing that they don’t know that this screams scam, which is…even worse.

      2. TrixM*

        Same here. Scam/MLM/cult vibes, not that there’s necessarily much difference between them.

        Unless it were made crystal clear in advance that they would be individually interviewing candidates immediately after the presentation. Which, if it’s more than 15 minutes, would again bring me back around to “scam”.

        An exception to this would be if they were doing cohort hires. I worked at one of the top-five law firms in the world at their London offices, and each year they hired a tranche of recent graduates who were essentially put through an apprenticeship-style scheme en masse.

    3. to varying degrees*

      Honestly it sounds like a time share presentation, only instead of getting a two night stay at a second rate gold resort you get a job interview.

  2. Zephy*

    The first letter is a good example of the double-edged sword of disclosing mental health challenges at work – the LW is aware that her employee does have something else going on beyond just choosing to be extra high/low energy for no apparent reason, but by the same token, rightly or wrongly, LW is also interpreting all of the behavior from her report through the lens of “this person has X illness,” which makes it more awkward than it needs to be for everyone to address when that behavior actually affects work.

    1. top five???*

      I disagree in this case. It’s not “all behavior” being interpreted through this lens, it’s this seemingly out-of-the-norm trend being interpreted through that lens. And it’s probably good to interpret any out-of-the-norm downward trend at work as having reasonable causes. The script Alison gave would be different if it there weren’t a reported health issue, more along the lines of, “You’ve always been a good employee but lately I’ve seen these issues which we won’t be able to accommodate during the busy season — what can we do to get back on track?”

      1. Hannah L*

        But OP doesn’t actually know if it’s because the employee has bipolar disorder. They could be dealing with a different health issue if they’ve been going to doctor that often. Or dealing with something stressful in their life. So Zephy is correct that this behavior is being viewed through the lens of mental illness when there’s many different reasons this could be happening (and as someone who is also diagnosed as bipolar this really grinds my gears).

        OP should just check in with the employee and see what’s happening before making assumptions. The issue could be situational and something that might resolve itself.

        1. TrixM*

          Nothing in Alison’s advice alludes to or recommends discussion of any diagnosis the employee has revealed to the LW.

          Quite the contrary, it’s literally about offering the employee support based on their observed behaviour and the work patterns that the LW has noticed previously. Alison’s script: “My sense is that you’ve been having a tough time the past few months… [promptung for how to support employee]”.

          Also, since the LW’s employee has revealed some of their mental health issues, it’d be disingenuous for the LW not to take that knowledge or history into consideration. But Alison is not suggesting any overt use of that knowledge, and her advice is appropriate for any valued employee you’ve noticed is struggling with even a normal workload, after previous good performance.

    2. Hall or Billingham*

      Additionally, by framing the discussion as “I know this employee has BPD,” the OP is risking their behavior being construed as OP treating this employee differently because of their disclosed mental health status, which is a real liability.

      1. Frank Doyle*

        FYI, I believe BPD is the accepted acronym for borderline personality disorder, not bipolar disorder.

        1. Hall or Billingham*

          Thank you for pointing this out! I apologize for my error and will get it right going forward. Appreciate the info.

    3. Katrina S.*

      It feels like the OP is at least receptive to correcting that pattern of assumptions (they are trying their best to help the employee), so I’d say the pros outweigh the cons in this case.

      Of course it’s ideal to have an employer who both understands the need for accommodations and understands you’re an individual person. But barring that, I think it’s easier to remind someone not to jump to conclusions about your behavior than it is to convince someone that yes, your condition does exist and it causes real barriers you can’t always will your way out of.

      OP–You can address the change in behavior and offer resources, but try to do it without internal language like “it’s clear to me that this is X.”

    4. learnedthehardway*

      Hard agree. If the employee hadn’t disclosed their mental health issues, the manager would have defaulted to thinking that the employee was coming down with the flu, had had a family member recently die, or any number of other things that would generally cause someone to be unfocused and a bit dysfunctional at work.

      That said, the employee did disclose, and the simplest explanation is probably correct. The manager should, however, tell the employee what she is observing rather than conclude that it is a depressive episode, ask the employee what the issue is, and set expectations the same as normal. IF the employee flags that they are going through a depressive episode, the manager should direct them to their EAP, advise them to get accommodations arranged, etc.

      The tricky bit is that the employee may not realize they are in a depressive or manic episode – that’s the real hell of mental illness – usually the person can’t see it. So, they may not be receptive to being told that they are in episode. It’s better to address the behaviours and set expectations, and offer supports that the employee is willing to accept, than to peg everything as the illness (particularly if one is not a psychologist).

      1. snarkfox*

        I’m not sure that’s necessarily true. It seems like the LW is actually being more understanding based on the employee’s disclosure of the bipolar diagnosis.

        This employee has been performing poorly for four full months. It doesn’t take four months to come down with the flu, and I have a feeling LW would’ve said something before now if they didn’t know about the employee’s diagnosis.

      2. Phryne*

        “The tricky bit is that the employee may not realize they are in a depressive or manic episode – that’s the real hell of mental illness – usually the person can’t see it.”

        I do not claim any expertise on bipolar disorder, but I think that is more the manic side, when everything seems to be going great? Because I do unfortunately have some insight on severe depression and I can guarantee, the bottomless pit of the complete absence of any purpose to, or joy in, life is quite hard to miss…
        And even then I have managed to hide it successfully for months from others, so I’d be careful with an assumption someone else can see what is wrong but the individual themselves not. Maybe before diagnosis, when you can not yet put words to the feelings, and an outside view can point out to you that feeling like that is not standard. But once you are diagnosed with a specific mental condition, it is not that hard to connect the dots when you start feeling different.

        1. Kelly*

          Re: others’ perceptions: in mania, while the individual’s self-perception *may* (or may not) be that everything is going great, if they are having serious delusions and psychosis and are talking at 4000 mph, the rest of the world will see them as unwell. So it is somewhat like depression in that it can be pretty obvious, and also like depression in the sense that it exists on a continuum, with hypomania being a milder state that may or may not be noticeable to others.

          A person in a full-blown manic state *is* different from someone who is depressed in that they have inherently lost touch with reality and don’t know that they are manic.

          Most mental health awareness campaigns extend only to depression and anxiety (and they does so inadequately), but disclosure of a “scary” disorder like bipolar or schizophrenia is a whole different ball of wax that people are much less likely to understand in life and at work.

          Source: I have bipolar.

    5. snarkfox*

      Yeah, I think if the employee hadn’t disclosed the bipolar diagnosis, the LW would’ve already addressed the four months of poor work performance. But, even though the employee may be “getting away with” more based on the disclosure, I’m not sure it’s to her advantage, either, to just let it slide based on the diagnosis.

  3. bipolar bean*

    For any managers in LW #1’s position – I’d HIGHLY recommend encouraging FMLA. I have bipolar disorder and it’s well managed, but inevitably once a year or so, a stressful event gets to me. I didn’t even know FMLA was a thing when I was starting my career, and a manager offering it to me was a game changer. I’m usually out 1-3 weeks when this happens, and it helps me come back to work healthy and focused. Make it very obvious she won’t be punished for using this leave – otherwise she might put off using the intermittent leave and end up quitting because her mental health deteriorates.

    1. irene adler*

      My sister, diagnosed with bipolar, whenever she was ‘breaking-in’ a new med cocktail, would often sleep 12-14 hours a day and have other symptoms like the OP described. Once things settled in, she was fine. The FMLA was a godsend for these times.

    2. FMLA Admin (now retired)*

      After a number of years administering FMLA and disability programs (including training managers to recognize situations where it is applicable), I have seen a lot of managers reluctant to initiate the FMLA process and employees not wanting to use it. What many managers don’t know or ignore is that employers subject to the law are required to take timely action when an employee’s absense reaches one of several qualifying reasons for FMLA. Failure to take action can someetimes lead to unintended consequences, potentially land the company in Federal court, and face significant fines and penalties. Contact HR immediately so that the required notice can be sent before the deadline. (Never try to handle FMLA on your own!) Employees often do not know that the law protects their job when they are absent on approved leave.

      In the LW’s situation, the employee’s disclosure of a medical condition and the need for time off for treatment should have triggered an intermittent FMLA case for a chronic illness. Her health care provider would have certified the absencce time needed for treatment, probably soemthing like “3-4 hours once or twice weekly to attend treatment visits”. The change in her situation would have allowed the employer (preferably whomever is administering the FMLA case in HR) to ask if the changes in her attendance and work performance are related to her existing FMLA. If so, a formal request for recertification from her provider can be made.

      At this point, a low key converstion with the employee is needed. Bring your HR into the loop as there is already a potential for ADA accomadations here. FMLA should be raised and the employe should understantd that, if she goes through the process, he job will be protected for up to twelve weeks while she does what she needs to do the get better.

      The one point I always told managers in FMLA traning is that they are not doing themselves and the employee any favors by ignoring the need for FMLA action. In fact, the regulations provide that both the employer and the individual supervisor or manager can be sued in Federal court for not handling FMLA correctly.

      1. LeftyRighty22*

        I expected the ADA to be brought up immediately in the guidance to the LW. If a manager that sees an employee struggling with functions of their role and believes that a medical condition could be the cause or a contributing factor, they should point the employee to the company’s ADA process.

  4. ABCYaBye*

    Oof… LW2, that is a TERRIBLE idea. Truly terrible. If a candidate walks in and has to sit through a presentation before being offered an opportunity to interview, that’s bad enough. But the qualifier to get the interview is that they stayed through the presentation? That’s not going to ensure you get to talk to the best possible candidates at all. And then to ask them to sit around and wait some undetermined amount of time for their chance to actually have that interview? You’re either going to get no one, or just people who don’t have anything better to do than sit around. I can’t imagine how poor the quality of candidates you actually get to finish the process is.

    It is disrespectful to the candidates for sure, and disrespectful to those who are attempting to fill those roles. What an incredible waste of time.

    1. Falling Diphthong*

      It reminds me of the (apocryphal) tale of the boss who called 20 people in for a 9 a.m. interview. Nothing happened. After an hour, half left. So on through the day, until at 6 p.m. the boss finally appeared and congratulated the sole remaining candidate on scoring an interview: it had been a test of patience.

      As Alison notes, anyone with options is going to bounce.

    2. NotAnotherManager!*

      I had the same reaction. I’m not sure what sort of position it’s for, but it strikes me as wildly disrespectful to the candidates’ time. Even my barely-entry-level folks would not stand for that sort of nonsense. They’re interviewing the employer just as much as the employer is interviewing them.

    3. Frank*

      Ooof! I was once asked to come in for a “working day interview” with a group of candidates. We were expected to do things for the owners (a wife and husband who own a hugely successful toy company named after themselves). I was to come in at 8:00 am and wait in the parking lot with the rest of the applicants and then we would all come in at the same time and be given a variety of tasks. We were expected to bring our own lunch and stay for the day ( 8-6). I said I’d be there, then read the reviews of the company on Indeed, then called back and gave them a hard no. Dodged that bullet.

      1. DontTellMyBoss*

        If that’s… uh… let’s say “mug and delissa” I have heard nothing but truly terrible things about working there and I have made choices about purchasing based on that information.

    4. londonedit*

      What’s the thinking behind this sort of thing? Is it like phishing emails, where they deliberately include errors to make sure they’re only picking up people who might be more likely to fall for the scam itself (i.e. people who aren’t paying full attention or might not have the reading comprehension or understanding of scams to realise it’s a fake)? Does this sort of thing just screen for really desperate people who are willing to do anything to get a job and will therefore be more likely to do anything to keep the job, including putting up with horrendous working conditions?

  5. Gerry Keay*

    And this is why I don’t disclose my mood disorder at work. Every misstep is interpreted as a mood episode. Feedback stops just being work feedback and starts being feedback on my ability to manage my mental health.

    I’m glad Alison’s feedback was basically to treat it like any other performance issue.

    1. Dust Bunny*

      To be fair, it sounds like her performance is excellent when she’s not in a downswing, so the LW has reasonable basis not to think it’s anything else.

      1. Meep*

        As a petri dish of mental illness, I think it really depends. Anxiety, OCD, and work-related PTSD have been helpful to disclose. Disclosing bipolar disorder is definitely something I hesitate with considering people often confuse it for BPD, which is more explosive. I would rather people think my depressive episodes are “burnout” than be labeled as “bipolar” for getting rightfully frustrated.

        1. Hannah L*

          Exactly. Many people see bipolar disorder, personality disorders, and schizophrenia as “scary” and those who have them as “violent” or “unstable.” I’m not ashamed to have bipolar disorder but I rarely tell anyone for that exact reason.

          1. Phryne*

            Yes, I have a social anxiety disorder and an avoidant personality disorder (neither at debilitating levels at the moment).
            The second one is generally much less noticeable and has less of a negative impact on my life, and little to no effect on my work, but I tend to leave that one out as people don’t know what it is but do hear ‘personality disorder’ and judge it to be something much heavier than ‘anxiety disorder’. Generally I just leave it at “I get depressions” without going into the fact they are symptoms, not an affliction in themselves.

      2. Gerry Keay*

        Her car could have broken down and she can’t afford to get it fixed, there could have been a death in the family, a breakup, a coworker bullying her, maybe she’s routinely sexually harassed on her commute, maybe she just really hates the projects she’s working on and is demotivated — and so on and so on. There are infinite reasons an employee might have a rough stretch where they’re not performing their best, and you’ve just further proved my point that once you disclose a mood disorder, people will only see you through that lens.

      3. Amorphous Eldritch Horror*

        Unfortunately having one issue (such as a mental illness) doesn’t prevent one from having other issues (death in the family, death of the car, long COVID, miscarriage, etc).

        1. Curmudgeon in California*

          Also, IIRC other issues can also trigger bipolar downswings. Especially if the person is normally stable on meds, and something like a death in the family, car wreck, etc can start a downswing. Then the whole thing is like a “which came first?” riddle.

          In the end, the manager can’t know what set it off, with or without a diagnosed disorder, they can only manage the impact on the work and try to help the employee get what she needs to level out (FMLA, ADA accommodations, etc.)

    2. top five???*

      This isn’t just “every misstep” though — the OP didn’t say, “My employee was late once and I think it’s because she’s bipolar” — which you do sometimes hear. We’ve definitely seen letters from someone asking essentially, “My employee has autism — should I treat every misstep as though it was because of her autism?” which obviously is not good. But this is an overall trend. I think people are wise to treat *any* change in overall trend as though it has a reasonable cause, even if you don’t know what it is. Because usually there’s a cause. If it’s not this, it could be a death in the family or sudden care-taking responsibilities. And in any case, it needs to be treated with sensitivity.

      1. Eldritch Office Worker*

        But that’s exactly it – it could be something else. Alison’s advice addresses that by treating it like any other performance issue, but the employer is saying “It’s clear to me that she’s hit a pretty severe depression spell.”

        Most of us don’t want our employers taking those leaps when presuming about our mental state. The employee disclosed a data point about her life, she didn’t sign up to be “the bipolar girl” at work and have everything put through that lens.

        1. Dust Bunny*

          However, the question was ultimately pretty open-ended: “How can I balance being compassionate as she adjusts her treatment with being her boss and needing to proceed with projects?”

          Because I think we’d all think it was pretty awful if the LW was just, “Well, she’s not hacking it so how do I manage her out?” Or else everyone whose work suffered a bit when they were going through a rough patch would just get fired, and I don’t think that’s the outcome anyone wants.

          1. Gerry Keay*

            I’m not like, upset at the manager or anything, I don’t think they’re doing anything wrong, I’m simply sharing that from my vantage point, as a person with a diagnosed mood disorder, these moments are exactly what I’m trying to avoid by not disclosing.

            1. I'm not my diagnosis*

              I get it. I also have bipolar disorder. I don’t tell people at work. When you tell people, sometimes outside factors that are legitimately upsetting get written off as if it’s your mood disorder making you upset. Your feelings and experiences become less valid to people. It’s assumed you don’t know because you’re mentally ill and lack insight. That’s not how that works with bipolar but that’s the common understanding of lack of insight.

              I had a work issue where I was miserable that issue was resolved by being given opportunities to change roles and ultimately take on more responsibility and a promotion. Based on experiences with people who do know or even what I’ve seen with people who have disclosed, or even how hard it was to get to where I needed to be, if I had disclosed my bipolar disorder instead of the opportunities to fix the situation I would have been written off as possibly in an episode and handed the number for the EAP.

              1. I'm not my diagnosis*

                Also, how does a manager balance the needs of their employee with bipolar disorder and the needs of the business? The exact same way you’d balance those needs if the employee had any other health related issue from cancer treatment to a broken limb.

                1. Phryne*

                  And businesses should anticipate this. People get sick, people run into stuff in life, people leave. If you are balancing on an edge where whenever someone is not at peak performance (and not even gone, or out sick, or needing whole days off, mind you, just a bit less on game) your business suffers, you are understaffed.

          2. Amorphous Eldritch Horror*

            Surely we have more choices than “everything is blamed on the mood disorder” and “there are no mitigating circumstances, you’re fired.”

        2. Kelly*

          I have bipolar disorder and I think this is a huge over-read. I had a similar situation and never felt like my manager saying it looked like I was falling behind on stuff was making it “all about bipolar.” I had a major medical issue, like cancer, and it would have been weird for me to have disclosed that to her and then have her act clueless about why my tearfulness in a meeting was happening.

    3. snarkfox*

      Yeah, I think the employee would’ve been reprimanded sooner if it hadn’t been for the disclosure.

  6. Eldritch Office Worker*

    It’s interesting to me that for #2 in the original letter OP says “my company wants to…” and this article words it as “Some employees at my company involved in hiring want to…”

    For me I think that changes the calculus a little. Is this a directive from management you can push back on, or is this a case of team members that don’t know how to hire and are trading efficiency for efficacy. The latter may indeed be easier to solve with management intervention, the former depends much more on your status and relationship to the decision makers.

  7. Lost In Nonprofitland*

    Q1 – I was in this situation five years ago with a severe depressive episode and some really bad times in my personal life. I was allowed one work from home day a week at the nonprofit I worked at, but was definitely calling off way more than I should, or working from home way more than we had originally agreed on, for about 3-5 months. My boss was very compassionate throughout it all (I was lucky that I could trust her enough to update her on details as needed). My job was somewhat flexible during the “season” due to being in tourism, but we were in the off-season and I was expected to be in the office M-F, 9-5, for most of that time.

    My boss sat me down after yet another traumatic incident and essentially told me, “You’re still doing fine work, but your absences are starting to be noticed by the board of directors, and they’re starting to ask questions. I know you’ve been going through a lot, but I need you in the office on a more regular basis for you to keep your job.” She outlined her expectations, especially asking me to stop calling off work and to keep my work from home day to one day a week as we had originally agreed on. She said if I stuck to that schedule for a few weeks, that would satisfy herself and the board. It also coincided with the tourism season “opening up” again, so I’d be back to my more flexible schedule with less expectation of me being regularly in the office.

    Honestly, I thought she was going to fire me for the absences before she said anything–but her professional kindness, mixed with her pragmatism, made me want to do as much as possible to not get her in trouble with the board of directors because of me. I worked hard to come in during regular office hours after that, and ended up staying another year with no more issues. I worked on my depression, and found a position that paid more and gave me more responsibility. I left that job on a high note.

    I am forever grateful for her giving me support without enabling me.

    1. Phryne*

      There is no way I can put this kindly…
      You are grateful for not being fired for being sick?
      You are grateful your boss did not ‘enable’ your illness?
      What else should she not enable, broken legs, concussions, cancer?

      1. Junior Dev*

        Eh, I have depression and I see where this could be coming from. The distinction between “cutting yourself some slack as self-care” and “becoming completely dysfunctional and letting your health get worse because your ability to feel motivation has been destroyed” is not at all clear. I think it’s up to the individual to decide how they want to interpret their own experiences.

        1. Phryne*

          I kept working thoughout my depressions, even though I absolutely could have gotten medical time off if I applied, because I knew for a fact that sitting on the couch at home on my own would very much not make things better. The cause of my depression was not related to my job, and I was mostly able to do it to a good enough standard even depressed. In fact, my work for a time was literally the only thing that made me leave my house. My problem is not with that, each person must decide for themselves what works.
          That is not what is described here though. Their boss did not ‘enable’ their illness? This sounds like stockholm syndrome.

  8. Annony*

    #2: Having to sit through a presentation with other applicants in order to get an interview makes the company seem shady. Especially since they apparently expect some people to leave mid presentation. Is this an MLM? If this interview structure appeals to the hiring team, something other than just the interview process is a problem.

      1. NotAnotherManager!*

        They do make exquisite cutlery, though. My family has a set that’s been around for 30 years, and it’s amazing.

        1. Slightly Above Average Bear*

          They really are impressive. I have a scar on my thumb from the cake server. There was cake, I got careless

    1. Tracy Flick*

      Yeah, this feels like “not enough info” – it sounds like the problem might be that applicants need more information than they seem to have, either because they’re showing up unprepared or because this team has more internal context than most.

      If that’s the case, there are a few ways to handle it:

      – Informational materials packaged with the application
      – Repeating in the job posting/followups that applicants need to review these informational materials because they will be discussed during the interview
      – Essay questions – ‘Why do you want to work here’ ‘How is your x experience relevant to y aspect of this role’ – specific to team/role needs to screen people out more efficiently during the resume review step (you can even provide the informational materials as a resource for these questions)
      – Automated screening or stricter requirements (this might be more difficult in this environment)

      – But also just…realism? Automation is causing massive volume scaling on both sides. I just went through a job search, and I have to admit that I wasn’t always the most prepared for each interview, especially initial screenings, and that I definitely applied to more jobs than I could reasonably pursue.

      It’s hard not to grab at every opportunity when each one promises to pay your rent, you know? Job searching is also inherently stressful, and it’s hard to understand how much until you’re in the thick of it.

      Some applicants will seem a little singed when they show up, and may have fudged some of their prep. That doesn’t necessarily mean that they don’t care about you or your company. It can also mean that they have existing commitments (like a busy current job) or that they’re dealing with a high-volume search of their own.

      So I think the best option might be to just stick with the analog interview and accept that it will be a bit duplicative. If your team is having a hard time scheduling for the whole hiring cycle, maybe see if you can interview a smaller number of candidates, or divide your interview process so that you can screen more people out after an initial 1:1/screen interview. That would be much less insulting than this proposal.

  9. Optimistic Prime*

    #3 I could be because they were told not to contact you. When I was out on maternity leave my employees were told by my boss not to reach out at all for anything. They did to express best wishes but a baby is a bit different than surgery. But that could be an option as to why they havent.

    1. Ama*

      Yup, when my boss went on medical leave I was told that I was under no circumstances to contact my boss directly for any reason even after she was released from the hospital for the initial medical emergency and was at home recovering for months (to be fair, my office did do a card for her that we all signed so I was able to express my well wishes that way). It’s very possible that the reports were told something like that, while coworkers who didn’t report to OP3 weren’t told that and so reached out.

      1. Shynosaur*

        I wasn’t told not to, but when my boss was out for a couple of months for surgery, I didn’t attempt any contact mostly because I assumed their inbox would be swamped with other things and I didn’t think it was appropriate to add to the stuff they’d have to sort through upon getting back. The team and I gave well-wishes after boss returned. I would expect LW’s team would do the same thing.

    2. MJ*

      Or they did send a card and it got lost in the mail.
      Or (based on previous letters) one person collected for the card / a gift and kept the money for themselves.
      There could be a number of explanations that don’t = my employees don’t care about me, so don’t make things weirdly personal at work.

    3. turquoisecow*

      I’ve never had a boss out for extended time periods but when I’ve had coworkers out, the direction was basically to leave them alone. Someone at the company usually organized card or flowers or something, and the person would get in touch with their boss to let them know updates about when they’d be back (this is what I did when I had surgery and when I was on maternity leave), but otherwise my instinct would be to let the person focus on healing and not stress them out about work.

    4. GRA*

      Our organization states that if someone is out on FMLA then they are NOT to be contacted. If you’re friends outside of the workplace it can be difference, but if my VP was out on FMLA I definitely would follow the rules and not contact them while they are out.

    5. NotAnotherManager!*

      This. HR always provides this direction when people are out on medical.

      When I was on parental leave with my second baby, I had to come into the office one day to do performance review-related work (I felt that I owed my team not to get shortchanged on raises and feedback), and it created quite a hoopla with HR.

  10. Hiring Mgr*

    If you’re interviewing everyone 1-1 anyway at the end, what’s the point of the presentation in the first place?

  11. I like FMLA*

    I like FMLA. I like FMLA. I like FMLA.

    I like it. I think it’s a good thing. But literally nothing about FMLA helps the manager in this situation. FMLA will give the employee job protection (a good thing!). But it will not help the manager with the employee being tired, unfocused, unorganized, and not meeting deadlines or oversleeping and coming in late at least once a week. If the employee was writing it, great idea to request FMLA. Also good for a manager to let their employees know about it. But nothing about FMLA will help the actual work get done which is what the person wrote in to get advice about.

    1. Loulou*

      It won’t help the work get done *by this employee.* It does then give the boss a vacancy that could potentially be filled by a temp, or pulling in employees from other teams, or some other solution that’s easier to make happen when you’re truly one down as opposed to just having an underperforming employee.

      1. Bee*

        Right, it’s easier to plan around a known gap than it is around someone who may or may not hit their deadlines.

      2. Lana Kane*

        Intermittent FMLA won’t necessarily help with pre-planning because it’s meant to protect last-minute absences.

    2. Just stopping by*

      This is a good point. Often when LWs write in to AAM asking how to deal with a co-worker who is struggling to perform at work for a legitimate reason (childcare, illness, etc.) the commentariat correctly responds, “that is an issue for your manager to address.”

      Well, now a manager has written in to AAM asking, “okay, how SHOULD I address this situation so it is fair to everyone?” It is a tricky question that probably requires the manager and/or business to examine some of their metrics and priorities.

    3. FMLA is great*

      FMLA can help both the employee and the manager in this situation. The time off can give the employee the time they need to focus on their health. For me personally, when I’m struggling with mental health, a week to just focus on that without worrying about work is incredibly helpful, and I can come back to work and be much more productive. For the manager, it’s easier to get additional resources when someone is out of office vs just not productive.

      1. Reluctant Manager*

        Yes, I was coming here to say this. I can’t just get extra resources when someone is on intermittent FMLA or even short term FMLA. Onboarding even a temporary employee is expensive and time consuming. The point of FMLA is to protect the employee, and while a good manager wants to do that, it doesn’t just trigger extra resources.

        1. Just stopping by*

          I think this is the crux of OP’s issue. While she is right to want to support her employee, she also needs the work to be done.

          FMLA seems to be the thing everyone is suggesting, so OP might just have to accept that she’ll either need to assign her employee’s work to other team members if she wants to be sure it is completed. Or, she needs to accept that some work just won’t be done during the upcoming busy season.

      2. Stuckinacrazyjob*

        Nod. Illnesses both mental and physical occur. I understand our workplaces aren’t set up for them, but * shrug emoji*

  12. Dust Bunny*

    #3 my (former, now retired) supervisor was in a serious car accident and we were told he would be OK–was definitely not going to die–but would be out for awhile. The initial email about this came from HR and then he shared brief, work-centric updates with us as he recovered. We were all generally friendly but not in the habit of sharing a lot of medical or personal information, and his updates pretty much set an arms-length tone, and I think everyone assumed it was better to let him decide how personal he wanted this to be. We wished him well, told him we looked forward to having him back, and asked him to let us know if he needed anything, and then let him call the shots re: communication. I think your team doesn’t want to seem like they’re probing for information or pestering you when you should be taking it easy.

  13. I should be working*

    I can’t think of a time when I’ve contacted someone when they were on leave (vacation or medical). That is their time away from work. I know how much I resent work infringing on my time away so I don’t do it to others. I do sign cards from the group.

    That doesn’t mean I’m not thinking of them and wishing them a smooth recovery or happy vacation.

    1. allathian*

      Yes, I’m the same way, although I’m lucky in that my employer fully supports work/life boundaries, so I don’t have a problem with work infringing on my own time. I’ve only made a few exceptions, I texted my close coworker when *I* was vacationing in his former hometown. He’s the only coworker who has my private phone number, I’m not on any social media, or else I would’ve messaged him on FB or something (if we were friends there, that is).

    2. Curmudgeon in California*

      Yeah, the times I’ve been out it has mostly been my manager handling the communication, occasionally a work friend.

  14. Pocketgnome*

    This is why I never tell people at work about my mental health. Even when they think they are being compassionate, they start watching for signs.

    1. Myrin*

      I get what you mean, but at the same time, noticing that an employee is “tired, unfocused, unorganized, and not meeting deadlines […], oversleeps and comes in late at least once a week” for four months (!) isn’t looking for signs, it’s just stating facts. OP is linking these things to a health issue she knows about when they might well not be related, but she isn’t specifically trying to find minuscule transgressions she can then blame on her employee’s disorder.

      1. Gerry Keay*

        But there are literally infinite reasons outside of bipolar disorder that cause those issues. Noticing and addressing the issues isn’t the problem — the problem is assuming you know the cause of those issues, and acting differently because of that assumption.

        1. Myrin*

          See, that’s what’s tripping me up – I don’t see anything to suggest that OP would react differently if these issues were indeed caused by her disorder compared to if they were not.

          From the letter, it seems like OP assumes the one mental health problem the employee disclosed is the cause of her recent shift in behaviour, but that’s basically all just background for Alison/the readers because her actual question is pretty open and regards being compassionate towards an employee while balancing one’s own work needs.

          I always see value in telling people “hey, be open to the possibility that not all is as it seems” but it also didn’t seem to me like OP would be behaving differently if a) she didn’t know about the diagnosis at all (because, again, her actual question is a more general one), or b) found out that employee’s behaviour doesn’t have anything to do with her bipolar at all.

        2. Kelly*

          I mean — with all respect, I have bipolar disorder and it isn’t just like everything else. I did the mental calculation on disclosing mental illness to my manager and it helped me immensely to do so, because after many stable years of employment, I was displaying inconsistency, loss of attention, loss of verbal acuity, trouble getting up and at work on time. I also would vacillate between that poor performance and strong performance, when I seemed well in a group setting then have to call out sick for two days, or be unable to complete simple tasks. It was most authentic for me to tell her because it was such an odd pattern of behavior that made me look bad. I could have said I generically was struggling with my health or an outside matter, but it was most helpful for me to say I was specifically having mental health problems because that gave her enough context to understand better, without even disclosing that I was specifically bipolar. It was bar none the best choice for me and I’m tired of the idea that anyone who chooses otherwise is misinformed. We’re mentally ill, not stupid or thoughtless.

      2. urguncle*

        I think it’s more connecting behavior directly to a disability. Issues with tardiness and disorganization could also be other stressful factors that the employee hasn’t disclosed. Kind of like if you told your employer that you are allergic to peanuts, but you come in one day with puffy eyes from crying and they say “oh my god, were you exposed to peanuts?!”

  15. Fikly*

    And welcome to why you shouldn’t disclose mental health conditions to your manager. Your manager is not a mental health specialist. Your manager cannot evaluate if you are in a depressive episode. Your manager is now assuming this is the cause, when there could be many causes, and this affects how it gets handled, often in a way that is negative for you.

    For the love of everything, HR for direct accommodations, or nothing.

    1. SofiaDeo*

      Unless it is known that HR/upper management is dysfunctional, and direct manager isn’t. I experienced this once. It wasn’t a mental health problem, it was HIV. But this was in the early days decades ago when prejudice about it was rampant, and people being creatively dismissed early in the diagnosis was widespread. It was before FMLA. So I had him provide HR with a general “patient must seen for regular appointments” documents from his physicians without any identifying information as to diagnosis. And instructed him to be vague/deflect when people asked about his scheduled time off for appointments/when he was ill. This was a slightly different situation since this was shift work in a hospital (no patient contact at all, background support role) so it was more adjusting tasks in a pool of staff available to me, instead of deliverables that one worked on for an extended time before finishing.

    2. Kelly*

      I have bipolar, was in a similar situation, and disagree wholly. I have bipolar but I’m not stupid: I understood that disclosing to my manager, who had always been extraordinarily supportive to me, was in my best interest. And it was; it made my life so much easier at a time when everything was so hard. Maybe this person felt and did the same.

  16. urguncle*

    OP3: I would like to gently suggest that this is a great time to look at your relationships outside of work.

  17. L-squared*

    #3 – I mean this in the least bad way possible, but you REALLY need to get over this. Telling people “I was hurt that none of you contacted me” comes across both whiny and awkward coming from a manager. They are your subordinates. Maybe it would be nice for them to reach out, but they don’t have to. Maybe they are enjoying their time without you in the office. Who knows. But you need to put this out of your mind.

    1. NotAnotherManager!*

      This, 100%. When you are in a position of authority, you have to be very careful not to create a situation where an employee feels obligated to work around your feelings or do something personal for you. They should not feel that their feedback, opportunity, or compensation is based on things they may do for you outside of business hours.

    2. Clobberin' Time*

      Not just hurt – “crushed”. And the LW wants to know “strategically” how to communicate that to her direct reports.

      It’s very interesting that the people who work directly for her are among the few who didn’t communicate get-well wishes. That might be a wake up call for the LW about what kind of boss she is.

  18. Tesuji*

    #3 – I’m sorry, but if you’re *crushed* because the employees you manage aren’t behaving like true friends, you have severely misunderstood the nature of your relationship.

    You should expect your coworkers and underlings to be friendly, and that’s about it. The idea that you should have expectations about how close the people you manage are to you off-the-clock, to an extent that you feel entitled to lecture them about their failings when you return is kind of mindboggling to me.

    Honestly, this raises all kinds of red flags to me about the LW’s suitability as a manager, and the extent to which she would favor those who cultivate a personal connection with her, given that she considers that her due as their boss.

  19. Twix*

    #1 Speaking as a full-time professional who has struggled with mental health issues and their impact on my career my entire adult life, I think that was a fantastic answer. It was compassionate without being infantilizing, respected the agency of the employee without being dismissive, and focused on the real issue – the employee needs to get X, Y, and Z done – rather than adherence to process purely for the sake of adhering to process. And the advice was spot on – you and your employee need a mutual understanding of expectations so you can both make informed decisions about how to proceed. Best of luck to you both.

  20. tamarack and fireweed*

    #4 I’d take a look why this is happening. Maybe the company’s jobs are subdivided too finely. Instead of 5 warehouse workers they advertise for 1 NW warehouse, cold storage shelves; 1 NW warehouse, warm storage shelves; 1 SE warehouse, cold storage shelves; and so forth. Similarly in the tech world, if there are many junior software engineers hired across multiple teams, and some are maybe more data science oriented, others more devops oriented, it may still be super hard for a potential candidate to have a good sense of what fit would be best – especially if they’re basically “I want to work for [X company] in a technical role”. In these cases it would make sense to funnel a lot of the recruitment – where/whenever you recruit large numbers of people of similar profile – through a preliminary stage where you have a conversation with the candidate and, from actual stated interests and skills profiles (as well as where hiring needs are most pressing) match candidates with particular positions’ hiring pipelines. You can also be ready to check back in with a candidate who self-selected or was sorted out of one of the pipelines (presuming it was for specifics of their profile compared with the role and the pool – not something prohibitive for a hire) to find a better match. (Eg. from the hiring manager: “This candidate doesn’t have experience programming flummleflux interfaces in Thyphoon III, and we have several candidates who do, but she has previously worked on designing real-time dashboards of flummleflux activity logs – so while she’s a no for *our* team, doesn’t the Ops team hire as well? She might be a good fit there.” Or from the candidate: “When you said ‘analytics’ I was thinking more of business data, but it seems that the Ops team is actually looking for a data analyst for real-time system performance. Is the business analyst position you also advertised still open? I’m interested in redirecting my application to that unit.”)

  21. CharlieBrown*

    I was really bothered by this:

    It’s clear to me that she’s hit a pretty severe depression spell.

    Not to disparage LW #1, but the symptoms described could also be a reaction to a new medication meant to treat the situation the employee has disclosed. (Brain meds don’t always work the way you think they will. They’re not like antibiotics.)

    This is one of those situations where the “take LWs at their word” rule and the “don’t armchair diagnose” anonymous people on the internet rule clash.

    Alison does ask us not to armchair diagnose people who write in, for very understandable reasons. I wish LW had been held to the same expectation.

    1. Kelly*

      I’m bipolar and disagree. I’m deeply used to taking and switching medications and in the event that they had an adverse effect and made me more depressed, it doesn’t matter to me whether my manager understands the nuance between “I am depressed” and “my depression meds are making me more depressed.” It doesn’t change anything about how I feel or about my performance.

  22. KP*

    If during a depressive episode, where I’m fighting every single day to a be functional human being and using the majority of my energy on that….and then you tell my efforts aren’t good enough because I missed a deadline?

    Nothing would disengage me more from the work. Sorry my brain’s trying to kill me. That must be a real bummer for your metrics.

  23. Rosacolleti*

    Taking 1-2 half days a week for Dr appointments? Presumably that means significant amounts of unpaid leave so her boss must already be across this

  24. Jessica Fletcher*

    This is why you never tell anyone at work about your mental health. The manager wants to fire this person, even though it’s not impacting her work. It never occurs to him to offer an EAP referral.

    1. Twix*

      But the LW didn’t give any indication of wanting to fire her, and also said that while the situation is not having a “dire impact” on her work, she has been regularly coming in late and missing deadlines and they’re entering a period where that’s going to become a bigger issue. If anything it sounds like knowledge of her mental health situation has caused her manager to be more understanding of performance issues that would otherwise have been addressed already, and they wrote in looking for advice on how to balance supporting their employee with getting the job done, not looking for permission to terminate her. As someone with serious mental health issues that impact my career I 100% understand the downsides of telling your boss about them, but I’m not sure how the OP in any way supports your statement here.

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