Bringing up problems is part of supervisory work

Always hold an early support discussion with the employee if you are worried about their work ability. Discuss how you can help them. Create a follow-up plan. Your occupational health services will provide help when needed.

Observe changes in behaviour

As a supervisor, you can often see tacit signals early on. They are small signs that precede actual symptoms or problems. Changes begin to show significantly earlier than they turn into actual problems or symptoms.

Tacit signals include: 

  • problems focussing, negligence 
  • problems with interaction  
  • trouble learning  
  • problems with memory or understanding  
  • prolonged workdays, frequent overtime  
  • discrepancies in working hours, such as continuous lateness  
  • neglecting work: responsibilities, timetables, qualitative or quantitative discrepancies in work performance  
  • dishevelled appearance  
  • weakened work motivation.   

Bringing up issues is initiating discussions. Initiate a discussion if you are worried about your employee or if your workplace’s shared reaction criteria are met.

You may become concerned about your employee when 

  • you notice that your employee’s behaviour or appearance changes clearly. For example, they have begun to isolate themselves or cry or become hostile or indifferent 
  • you observe that an employee’s motivation, work performance or ability to learn have been impaired
  • you suspect your employee is using intoxicants
  • you notice that your employee’s absences from work increase or tend to accumulate in connection with weekends or holidays 
  • you notice conflicts in your work community 
  • you notice conflicts in your work community 

What to discuss and how?

Address the issue as soon as possible, or in other words, talk to your employee. Follow these steps:

  • Plan when you will tell your employee about the discussion. You should time the discussion to take place in the middle of the work week so that there is not several days or a weekend between agreeing on and holding the discussion.
  • Try to arrange a one-on-one discussion in a quiet environment where you can talk about things in privacy and freely without being disturbed.

Showing an interest in your employee and their work is key to the conversation. What matters most is listening to them.

  • Consider beforehand what concrete observations and concerns you want to talk about.  
  • Agree on the discussion with your employee. Tell the employee what you want to talk about.  
  • Reserve a quiet space. Always hold the discussion in private.
  • When the discussion starts, remind your employee what you wish to talk about.  
  • Tell them that your goal is to get things to run smoothly and to find solutions to the situation.   
  • Give concrete examples of what you have noticed or what has happened. Describe the change that has occurred and express your concern about the situation. Speak in the first person.
  • Ask the employee what their view is on the situation and listen to them. Ask for more details by presenting open-ended questions.
  • Tell them about different solutions and encourage the employee to suggest possible solutions. State that the goal is to get things to go smoothly in future. 
  • Agree on how you will tell the work community about the employee’s situation and work arrangements.   
  • Also agree on what you will do after the discussion and how you will monitor what you have agreed on.
  • Write down the key points of the discussion and especially the solutions, measures and monitoring you have agreed on together.

Contents of the discussion

It is your job to ascertain whether your concerns about your employee’s ability to carry out their work has been justified. However, keep the focus of the discussion on its goal, i.e. on getting things to run smoothly and finding solutions. Support the employee in bringing up the solutions that help them in their work. Remember that not everything has to be resolved at once.

Discuss matters that are important to the employee. Talk about their working conditions, work community and management and how empowering or stressful they find their work,. Discuss the content of their work, their motivation, values and attitude and other things that impact how meaningful they find their work. Discuss how they take care of their work-life balance. When talking about their professional competence and development, think about how it supports the achievement of their work goals. Remember that not everything has to be resolved at once; you can hold two or three discussions.

Your employee will be most likely to commit to a solution that they have suggested themselves. That is why you should ask them how they would solve the matter or what would be the best solution in their opinion.

When needed, you can make your own suggestions. Don’t pretend to understand what is going on, have an open mind when it comes to what you are hearing and the entire conversation.

You hold the keys to the changes to be made at the workplace. If necessary, you can make decisions, for example work accommodations supporting the return to work, working hours solutions or work rotation. 

Sometimes the situation is such that your employees’ challenges lie somewhere other than their work, but impact their work. Then, it is important for you to find solutions to control or reduce their workload during the most difficult phase. Often, the best way to help your employee is just to talk to them and listen.

Ask the employee open-ended questions, ones that they cannot just answer no or yes to. Open-ended questions include the following:   

  • What kind of challenges do you have in your work?   
  • How could they be reduced?
  • What factors support your work, your work ability or your well-being at work?   
  • How could they be maintained and increased?   
  • How well are you able to achieve the set goals?  
  • How do you think you should develop your competence?   

Agree on follow-up

It is not always possible to find a solution during one discussion. Addressing difficult matters can also cause your employee to break down because they feel that they are given permission to admit that they cannot cope. In this case it is important to continue the discussion and agree on a new meeting. In this next meeting, you can begin to consider what options are available.

Also agree on a new meeting if you cannot find common ground, i.e. are not able to find a good dialogue. Do not let matters rest. You can suggest, for example, that: We could return to this matter tomorrow when you’ve had time to think about what we discussed. We can try to find the best solutions for resolving things then. 

When you have agreed on solutions, decide how you will monitor the implementation of the agreed measures and the benefit gained from them.

Ask occupational health services for support

You will receive (and it is important to ask for) support from occupational health services when 

  • the employee’s problem is related to an illness  
  • the employee has plenty of absences due to illness or they have increased 
  • you need a health care professional’s opinion on how to proceed 
  • you need an assessment of how the employee’s work impacts their work ability 
  • you need recommendations for accommodating the work and working environment or other work arrangements  

Contact your designated occupational health nurse.