Tampa General Hospital CEO John Couris: 8 tips to support a struggling teammate

As a team leader and throughout my 20-plus year career, there have been specific instances where a star teammate has faltered. Like all of us, these folks are human. Sometimes personal lives can encroach on our professional ones. Challenges may arise and things can become complicated — the death of a loved one, a financial crisis, a failing marriage, an addiction or a child in trouble. Or, like so many in the healthcare profession, they are silently struggling with mental health issues.

Over one quarter of adults in the U.S. experience some type of behavioral health disorder in a given year, and over 50 percent of Americans will be diagnosed with a mental health condition at some point in their lifetime, according to the CDC. We also know that those in the healthcare profession experience mental health challenges and are more likely than our peers in other professions to battle depression or burnout. These caregivers dedicate all they have to others, so much so that they often neglect taking care of themselves.

For far too long, those who have experienced depression, anxiety and other mental conditions have suffered in silence. This has only contributed to the stigma surrounding mental health challenges. Thankfully, increasing awareness and support for those who need it is helping reduce the stigma and shame.

What, then, are we as leaders to do when one of our team members is struggling? How do we respond? How can we help them find their way back, and support them while they do so? How do we provide support to those team members who are able to execute their job while experiencing mental health issues with little impact on productivity or quality while also taking care of those who need a more significant intervention?

Obviously, there are specific and rare instances where lines get crossed, and disciplinary action must be taken. But for the most part, intervening and doing all we can do for those who need support is called for. It's the kind and humane course of action. Not to mention, it makes good management sense.

Here are some things to consider when helping a colleague or team member who is struggling:

  • First, remind yourself and them of the years of great work and dedication. Don't only focus on a couple of months of not so good times.
  • Let them know that you are aware of the performance issues, but that you are equally concerned with what is going on with them outside of the office.
  • Have a compassionate and non-threatening conversation with them. Be transparent, sympathetic, but clear. Let them know you will do everything you can to maintain confidentiality.
  • Work with them to put a plan into place to get them back on track. You might need to insist on specific next steps, but you can do that in as supportive as a way possible.
  • If they need to take some time off or seek counseling or treatment, work with them and your HR folks to facilitate this process.
  • For those needing to take time off, put the appropriate conditions in place to help them make a smooth re-entry when they are ready to come back.
  • Keep an eye on them — check in early and often. Encourage their progress and lean in if you feel they need some help.
  • Most importantly: Communicate, let them know you care and that you want them to be part of the organization for the long haul.

While it's necessary to focus on employees who are currently struggling, it is just as important to support and cultivate the long-term emotional and physical health and wellness of your team. Fostering a supportive environment that values and cares for the health and wellbeing of its team members is the necessary foundation for a thriving organization.

Encourage conversations about self-care and team wellness, including mental health, within your organization. Always remind your team that mental illness is a medical condition like any other and that there's no shame in seeking help. Finally, train and teach your team members to watch out for each other and be attuned to their own feelings and needs.

Developing an overall wellness strategy through which you provide services like stress management, mindfulness training, and other supportive activities is critical to the overall wellbeing of your team. You should insist that team members take time for themselves and their families when and as needed. And lead by example. While life-work balance is truly not possible, we can all achieve some level of life-work integration.

Our team members give so much to our organizations. These are dedicated folks who day in and day out give 100 percent. There is nothing they would not do for the organization, and they invest all that they have into their work. We should make sure we do all we can to be there for them.

John Couris is the president and CEO of Tampa General Hospital. You can learn more about John and read more from him at changewithcouris.com

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