How to Spot When An Employee Is Struggling


Wrote this on, July 9, 2020

how to spot when an employee is struggling

From time to time, we all face struggles at work. Sometimes we feel like we’re winning whilst at other times we feel as though we are falling. Although challenges are beneficial to our career growth, they can impact our mental wellbeing, deeper than we might imagine. If you have landed on this article, chances are you’re wondering, as an employer how to spot when an employee is struggling?

Society has led us to believe if we struggle in our job then we aren’t good enough. Which isn’t true. Struggles are a part of life, and struggling doesn’t mean we are incapable, there are many factors that can impede our abilities at work.

Struggling with a new challenge or facing problems at home can be hard to disguise, at least most of the time. Recognising an issue within ourselves and admitting it are two very different things, often spotting a struggling employee or colleagues can be the best thing for them.

What Mental Health Issues Can We Face At Work?

Work-related stress is the most common mental health issue we may face at work. Poor relationships with colleagues can also affect the way in which work. Challenges that keep us on edge throughout the working day, can spill into our personal life and keep us awake at night. Equally personal issues outside of work can leak into our professional life, resulting in lack of concentration and focus.

We’ve touched on the topics of anxiety and depression at work, which can stem from stress. It is quite possible you work with someone with a mental health issue. You may notice deadlines not being met, late attendance and erratic behaviour. How do you know when it’s something serious and when should you step in?

It is believed that the number of people struggling at work with mental health issues in the UK has doubled since last year. Bupa UK, a healthcare company discovered 44% of employees have experienced poor mental health likened to the aforementioned, and have not spoken to anyone about how they are feeling. Last year the figure was just 22%. Such results are concerning from an employee wellbeing perspective. 

How to spot when an an employee is struggling2020 has been a hard year, worldwide. The pandemic has impacted a large portion of the population, in more ways than we might have ever expected. Which begs the question, as a business should we just grin and bear it? The answer is no. 

As symptoms can be moderate, people will still go to the office and will continue to live their days as normal. However, a lot are undiagnosed, some of which are kept under the radar. On average it takes 65 days for someone to come forward and open up about how they are feeling. Surprisingly, women take 15 days longer than men. 

So, As An Employer or Colleague, What Can I Do?

When an employee is struggling it can be tricky. It requires careful navigation, planning and fundamentally, compassion. Few managers and senior staff have training in this field and often at times, understanding how it feels to suffer from a mental health issue comes from personal experience. If you are concerned someone in your team is suffering from their mental wellbeing here is what you can do.

Set Up a Conversation

Whether working remotely or in an office setting, regular check-ins are important. For most of us, hiding a mental health issue is easier than speaking up, so whilst someone may not look like they are suffering, if they are acting differently than they usually do, having an open honest conversation might spark them to open up. You might want to begin by observing a failed deadline and express your concerns such as, “we have been trying to get the task closed off and there has been a missed deadline, is there a reason why or is there any way I can help?”. It’s important whatever they say after this is listened to, don’t push but it is important to follow up.”

How to spot when a employee is strugglingLet Them Speak

When someone is suffering, feeding them with words they may not understand or feel might cause them to close up. Mental health can be hard to articulate, difficult for others to understand and when we suffer mentally we aren’t always looking for answers, instead, we just want to be heard so don’t try to give a knee-jerk diagnosis. Let them speak, ask how they are feeling and how they are getting on with a task you set them. Remote work makes natural dialogue and organic observation harder but you can gauge how engaged someone is by their attendance, their presenteeism and how much time they spend away from their desk. You can always offer advice from personal experience if it is relevant.

Take Them Out of The Office

When an employee is struggling mentally, they’ll find it hard to focus and concentrate for long periods. Getting out of the office can be a great stepping stone to talk openly, ask questions, and express feelings. Sometimes the environment we are in can become a safety net to avoiding our issues, in the same way, it causes them to manifest and worsen. Schedule a time to take them for lunch or a coffee.

Ask How You Can Help

Whilst you may not know directly how to help, there are many resources and tools out there that can. In-person therapy, meditation apps, wellbeing seminars, and online help are right there at our fingertips. What does your company offer that might be beneficial? The stigma that comes with mental health may have disguised any company benefits that can perform miracles on someone who needs it the most. By offering help, finding solutions and guiding the individual will fill them with confidence and trust that what is going on can be solved and it will be dealt with professionally and compassionately.

How to spot when an employee is strugglingCreate An Open Space

To get the best out of your employees it’s essential we allow them to flourish and to be themselves. We all work in different ways and a system that works for a logical thinker will be difficult for a creative to grasp. Ask not just those who are struggling but your everyone in your workplace what obstacles, if any cause them to struggle and how you might be able to streamline the system that works for everyone.


Always remember to show compassion, no problem should ever be too small. When someone expresses they are suffering from their mental health is real and it should be treated that way. Do remember to observe, listen non-judgmentally and speak with HR if you are really concerned by an employee who is struggling. Don’t judge, push or jump to conclusions about how someone may be feeling.

In today’s world, we have begun to face unprecedented moments, beyond our control. As humans, we like to feel in control, whilst we can’t manage that, managing what is going on inside can be done organically. As an employer remaining at the forefront of awareness might possibly be the most effective and rewarding thing you do.

At Everymind, we are normalising the conversation around mental health in the workplace, through technology. Can we help? Get in touch today.

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