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Team member goes Off the rails

Does anyone have experience of psychological problems in the office ? Ideally in this situation you would try to help the person, but how ? what if they don't want to be helped ? References & resources are welcome.

To be clear, this is a bit more than an antisocial developer who's a bit grumpy and needs a bath. In the situation that I have in mind, the person has undergone a change in attitude and personality over a few months from meek/passive to openly hostile. Performance has fallen. They have become aggressive and un-cooperative. Often, they show signs of being detached socially and from reality.  Offers of counselling were rejected aggressively.

Anonymous for obvious reasons.
Thursday, April 8, 2004

I've had experience with them at home. Can you contact the employee's family, if any? Perhaps you should consult a lawyer.

> Often, they show signs of being detached socially and from reality.

A psychiatrist, not just a counsellor, could be needed. It may take a lawsuit or other court order to force a person to see a psychiatrist against their will: which may be more than you as an employer are able and/or willing to engineer.

I don't know what might happen if you insist on a doctor's note as a condition of continued employment.

Christopher Wells
Thursday, April 8, 2004

If this has been a reasonably quick change, then try to have them visit a doctor. There are a number of possible causes, some of which are rather serious, for example aggression is a often a preliminary sign of hypoglycaemia in diabetics. Sudden mood changes can also be associated with hormonal changes, or with episodes of clinical depression or with brain tumours. These are just the high lights the St. John's first aider's course, which basically says "get professional medical help".

Thursday, April 8, 2004

Boss, is that you?

Thursday, April 8, 2004

From experience it sounds like the leading edge of a depressive episode. I say experience: I'm talking more about experience from the inside, but apparently I get very mean when I'm on a downer.

It's also worth mentioning that if they are suffering from clinical depression they're probably not aware of their mood changes. So they can't tell when this happens.

I'm not - I rely on my other half telling me it's the third day in a row you've been yelling at him and then he takes me off to the doctors to get more pills.

I think you need to sit them down and carefully, and QUIETLY explain that their behaviour is atypical and needs checking out. It needs to be done gently because they'll be extremely touchy; oversensitivity to situations is a symptom of Atypical Depression which is one of the main varieties.

Stress will NOT help in the slightest. It'll just make things worse. Ultimatums, threats and bullying aren't going to do anything good. The main thing is that depressed people want the world to go away and stop bothering them. Aggression, withdrawl and self-harm are all different reactions when it won't.

Just be gentle when you do stuff. No sudden moves, sort of thing. Suggest he takes a week off; see how he is when he comes back. Once stress causes get removed, he could improve enough that you can talk to him about long term solutions.

Katie Lucas
Thursday, April 8, 2004

Gaius beat me to it.  If there aren't any obvious causes of the change in behavior, it could be something really serious.  There's a very famous example of a mild-mannered friendly student (in San Diego I think) going up to the top of a university clocktower and shooting several people with a rifle.  After he was killed by police, an autopsy revealed that he had a brain tumor.

Thursday, April 8, 2004

Give him a raise and quit nagging him to work weekends?

Thursday, April 8, 2004

Before we send out the paddy-wagons, it sounds like he may just be disgruntled. Part of what you described sounds like me before I left my last job. Except for the 'detached from reality' part. Don't know what that means.

Thursday, April 8, 2004

A guy I shared an office with recently committed suicide. We had no idea that he wasn't OK -- no mood swings, no unusual behaviour, nothing.

I'd take the change in behaviour very seriously. It's not grounds to fire him, and suggesting he gets a doctor's note probably isn't a productive way forwards. If you are an employer you have a duty of responsibility to your employees, so you need to try and make it known to him that you are concerned, that it's OK -- he won't lose his job, but that he needs to seek professional help. You may also have to contact his family if he won't respond. You also have a duty of care towards the people this guy works with -- is he being *too* aggressive towards them?

But you also need to insulate yourself. Make sure that management know the situation, decide on a way forwards, document it, and possibly get legal advice. Be aware that firing the guy won't insulate you from blame, and may make this guy's situation worse.

Don't feel too guilty about things if they go wrong. People get sick and often won't do the sensible thing (because they're not thinking normally).

Be aware, as another poster said, that if he is clinically depressed, he probably won't know. I went through a bout one dark winter (I think I had SAD). I was aware that it was almost impossible to motivate myself to do even the simplest things -- like get out of bed in the morning -- but at the time I put it down to being tired etc. It wasn't until I read a description of classic symptoms of clinical depression that I realised what had been going on.

Clinical depression (if that's what this is -- there are other possibilities, as another poster said) is *very* common and treatable.

Name witheld
Thursday, April 8, 2004

Unless you are the boss, stay out of it.  If you are the boss, then the best you can do is call them in and tell them their behavior is impacting them and the workplace and they need to get it together.

Then you need to start tracking and recording the behavior so at some point when you let them go you  have a record of having discussed it and the affect.

You cannot force someone into counseling, and in the US you cannot fire someone for refusing to go.  You can force them into a decision, that makes them resolve the issue or be terminated. 

BTW - if they do appear violent and as an employer you knew it but took no action and they become violent in the workplace, you are pretty much screwed.

Thursday, April 8, 2004

An organization where I used to work faced a similar situation, and handled it all wrong.  Here's what I've learned from that.

I'm not a laywer, and laws vary from place to place, but in the US anyone suffering from a mental illness--or anyone who is *perceived* to be suffering from such an illness--is protected by the Americans with Disabilities Act and other legislation.  Taking the wrong steps, even if you mean well, may open you up to a nasty legal situation (assuming your company is large enough for discrimination laws to apply--this varies from state to state).

Make no assumptions.  Unless you are trained to diagnose mental illnesses, you have no business even speculating as to what may or may not be going on.  It's presumptuous and offensive--you wouldn't like it if your boss decided you were probably suffering from mental illness, right?  Furthermore, discussing these speculations with anyone besides your immediate supervisors may result in legal problems for your company and you personally.  It is up to the employee to disclose the existence of a disability, and it is illegal for you to inquire about it.

Requiring a doctor's note for him to continue working is discrimination, unless you require a similar note from all of your other employees.  Really, doing anything that you wouldn't do for any other employee with a bad attitude can be construed as discrimination--and in many states, an employee only needs to show that it looks like discrimination on the face of it to have a succesful case.

The right way to handle this is to treat the employee as you would treat every other employee--with respect.  By law, you have to tactfully "ignore" your suspicion that the employee is having mental problems, and focus instead on his job performance.  Document things like decreased productivity and problems with coworkers.  Then sit down with the employee and discuss these things.  Leave the door open for him to disclose a problem and request help in dealing with it, but remember that it's not your place as his employer to force him to deal with personal issues.  Your responsibility is soley about his job performance. 

All of this assumes that you're the supervisor of the employee in question, which, on rereading the original post, wasn't specified.  If you're just a concerned coworker, then you just need to do what you'd want someone to do for you:  be supportive, be available to help, but ultimately leave any decisions up to him.  If you have problems with the coworker that you can't solve, request assistance from management.

Again, I'm not a lawyer, just someone that has seen a similar situation.  Google on "employment discrimination <state name>" and you'll find a lot more about your legal obligations in this situation.

Emperor Norton
Thursday, April 8, 2004

While I don't have advice on how to handle it, I second the medical possibility.  A family our family knows had a daughter who was in love with a guy who was constantly rude and obnoxious; the girl's mother couldn't stand him.  In the midst of their engagement, they discovered he had a brain tumor.  After the operation, he turned out to be a nice, sweet guy; he even visited the mother (now his mother-in-law) and apologized for his obnoxiousness.

Oh, and another thought: Is it ragweed season where you live?  Allergies can have a major effect on people's moods, as I well know from personal experience: you get short of breath and feel terrible all the time, and you almost can't help but snap at people.

Thursday, April 8, 2004

> You cannot force someone into counseling

I don't know whether that's true, but I'd predict it isn't easy; in Ontario, it takes a court order that the person is an imminent danger to self or others, or, is incapable of making an informed decision and needs a substitute decision-maker (a guardian).

Christopher Wells
Thursday, April 8, 2004

Okay, I'm taking the attorney's gloves off for this one - this is NOT legal advice.

"By law, you have to tactfully "ignore" your suspicion that the employee is having mental problems, and focus instead on his job performance."

Bullshit. Just plain and simple B.S.
Aren't we all still people on this planet? Don't we want to care about each other and others to care about us? This is not a malfunctioning piece of equipment - it's another person in the office who may just need an ear or a shoulder.

The CARING thing to do is to talk to the person. Address them as a person and ask if they're alright. If it's a peer, treat them as a friend - "Hey, is everything alright? Is there anything you need to talk about?" You can stay in proximity without being a pest.

If it's a subordinate, ask the same questions. You could even open yourself up, if you think it's appropriate - "How's work going? Are you stuck on anything? Is there something I can do to help out?" You can be supportive without being confrontational.

Now if his/her work performance starts to decline, then you get into the legal arena of having an HR rep and perhaps legal in the loop, but you can still be supportive without being threatening.

Use your best judgement. If you're unsure of your footing, talk to HR or legal, but be advised that that can often start machinery you don't want running. But if you're going to start taking actions that may impact the company or could lead the employee to believe his/her job is in jeopardy, then you really should have HR and legal in the loop.


Thursday, April 8, 2004

"The CARING thing to do is to talk to the person. Address them as a person and ask if they're alright. If it's a peer, treat them as a friend - 'Hey, is everything alright? Is there anything you need to talk about?' You can stay in proximity without being a pest."

If you're not already the person's friend, I daresay he won't react well to you acting like his friend because you're so concerned.

Thursday, April 8, 2004

Anonymous, I think you're the problem, not the person you accuse of being of having "psychological problems."

First, your underlying view of this person seems to have been contemptuous ("antisocial developer who's a bit grumpy and needs a bath").

Second, although you complain that the person become strange, you provide no markers of the context in which it occurred, or the nature of the unusual behaviour.

Third, you refer to "performance" factors, which suggests you are a frustrated and probably incompetent manager. You tell us he or she has become "openly hostile." You tell us also that you were so arrogant as to try to organise counselling, without having reasonable professional grounds to do so.

Anonymous, when intelligent people start to understand that their managers are trying to make them do stupid things, reactions vary from resigned acceptance to avoidance to hostility and aggression. Those reactions will occur especially if managment provides no genuine avenues for feedback, and even more so if management attempts to classify disagreement as "psychological problems."

You should have a talk with your own manager about some management training.

Must be a Manager
Thursday, April 8, 2004

"""Aren't we all still people on this planet? Don't we want to care about each other and others to care about us? """

Yes, but we are a people that is disposed to egoism and legalism. Too many lawyers, too much Ayn Rand.

in a nutshell
Thursday, April 8, 2004

""By law, you have to tactfully "ignore" your suspicion that the employee is having mental problems, and focus instead on his job performance."

Bullshit. Just plain and simple B.S.
Aren't we all still people on this planet? Don't we want to care about each other and others to care about us? This is not a malfunctioning piece of equipment - it's another person in the office who may just need an ear or a shoulder. "

Philo, I think you're taking that statement out of context.  In terms of employment and workplace environment, you can't make decisions based on the suspicion that a disability exists, nor can you inquire about it.  That was what I was getting at in the statement you quoted above.

Of course you can offer an ear or a shoulder.  That's basic human courtesy and nobody's going to get upset about that.  But there's a line where those offers cross the line from being polite to being presumptuous. 

A fair comparison is to a wheelchair-bound employee.  An offer to open a door or get something from a high shelf is friendly.  Always offering when the employee has made it clear that they'd rather open the door himself is inappropriate. 

Likewise, if an employee with an apparent mental illness has made it clear that he doesn't want your help (as in the original question), it's not an employer's place to force help on him.

Again, I'm not a lawyer, but the attorney gloves are off anyway.

Emperor Norton
Thursday, April 8, 2004

Why invoke the lawyer as the expert here, anyway, just because Philo does it to flatter himself.

Philo, you're not a psychologist, workforce arbitrator, or workforce manager. Those are the more relevant criteria of expertise.

Thursday, April 8, 2004

Offer a month off...

Thursday, April 8, 2004

Now you've got us all hooked on this soap opera, make sure you let us know the outcome, won't you?

I'm betting on a stressful situation at home. In these days of job insecurity, most employees would be afraid to ask for time off - and frightened if it were offered without reassurances.

Friday, April 9, 2004

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