Performance management when staff have mental health and personal challenges

Dr Leith Middleton - Mapien

Empowering leaders to cultivate performance and psychosocial wellbeing

Performance conversations are a necessary activity for leaders that can be challenging yet have significantly positive impacts when undertaken effectively. Most workplaces have processes and procedures for managing performance and traditionally, these guidelines have been built using human resource and performance frameworks.

More recently, Australian Workplace Health and Safety Legislation provides workplaces greater clarity for integrating psychosocial hazard management in workplace activities. It has also amplified the need for leaders to consider the mental health of their people. There have been recent cases from the Fair Work Commission and in the area of workplace health and safety, which indicate the potential legal implications and liability that can arise for employers from performance and management processes.

In the modern context of leadership, managers and supervisors are therefore experiencing increased complexity in performance conversations. They must now apply IR knowledge, HR frameworks and a clear understanding of psychosocial factors, to navigate an already difficult interaction.

Gaining clarity on what you are managing
Leaders are often confused by the differences between mental illness, mental health, and personal stressors.

Keyes Dual Continuum Model of Mental Health

The Keyes Dual Continuum Model of Mental Health provides a helpful framework to remind us that mental illness and mental health are linked but separate concepts.

For example, a staff member with a previously disclosed mental illness may have proactive and reactive coping strategies in place resulting in high mental health. Conversely, a staff member with no mental illness, may be experiencing low mental health due to a current and temporary personal stressor.

Whilst not responsible for managing personal stressors that are not work related, The Code states that when aware of an existing concern, an organisation should ensure that psychosocial hazards do not create further harm, so far as is reasonably practicable (pg. 7).

The implications on your performance management processes:

  • Proactively consider psychological health and safety in your performance management processes; be aware of the hazards, consider how the hazards may be brought about by the process, consider what controls need to be put in place and whether anything needs escalating.
  • Support staff in having safe conversations with their leader, factoring in wellbeing and mental health.
  • Seek professional guidance and/or leadership training on what to say and do when mental health is raised.

Common business risks arising from this increased complexity:

  • Leaders avoiding performance conversations resulting in issues escalating and spilling over to team members.
  • Leaders “delegating” performance conversations upwards and/or to HR for action.
  • Staff complaining of unfair, stressful, or harsh, performance expectations.
  • Engagement surveys reporting unfair performance management.

Mapien are increasingly working with clients proactively, and reactively, to improve the effectiveness of performance management processes and discussions when mental health or personal stressors are present. If you would like to learn more, please reach out to Dr Leith Middleton via

Expression of Interest

Learn more about how Queensland Leaders can assist your business.

International Leaders