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5 Signs of Mental Health Challenges with Remote Coworkers
“We need you out here now! Something is wrong with Kristy!” announced one of my coworkers, frantically bursting in to my office. I followed my coworker to find Kristy.
I asked Kristy what was wrong and she said, “They followed me here. I have to leave.”
I looked out the window. There was nothing out there but some birds.
Within the next few hours, we would learn Kristy was experiencing a mental health breakdown. We were able to convince her to let us contact her family to come pick her up. Kristy returned to work a few weeks later and there were no major issues after that day.
I was grateful that our team stayed calm and banded together to help her while she was in need.
Today, Kristy has a job where she works fully remotely. Sometimes, I wonder who will be there to recognize distress and help her if she ever experiences an issue while working.
Organizations with remote workforces must make a greater effort to notice mental health difficulties and decline in employees to provide them with appropriate support and resources.
Some general signs of mental health difficulty include:
- Negative attendance patterns. When employees go from prompt and present begin to arrive to work & meetings late, or leave early, or call out altogether, it may be a sign.
- Changes in physical appearance. When employees go from polished presentations to being regularly unkempt, it may be a sign.
- Changes in eating habits. When employees go from being food conscious or taking regular meal/snack breaks, to eating too much, too little, or not at all, it may be a sign.
- Changes in demeanor. When employees go from fun-loving and collaborative to being unpredictably moody or paranoid, it may be a sign.
When working onsite, these signs are easier to recognize because we visibly see and interact regularly with the other person, so we can tell when something has changed. Remote work does not offer the same opportunity.
Here are some ways these same behaviors may show up in remote work:
- Adjusted work hours. When employees start their workday earlier or later or work staggered unexpectedly, it may be a sign.
- Glitches in work product. When employees begin missing deadlines and making errors or misplace or overlook work items, it may be a sign.
- Changes in participation. When employees go from having cameras on, chatting up coworkers, and being enthusiastic during virtual meetings to cameras off and being quiet as their norm, it may be a sign.
- Distractions in the environment. When employees begin expressing concerns about the safety of their home or strange movements by their neighbors, it may be a sign.
- Complaints of tiredness, pain, or fatigue. When employees begin regularly describing themselves as exhausted, having trouble sleeping or experiencing physical pain regularly, it may be a sign.
If you notice these signs in your coworker and have concerns about their well-being, the best next step is to ask directly how they are doing and offer your support. If you do not have a trusting relationship with the individual and are comfortable asking them, consider approaching another leader who has greater closeness to confidentially share your concern with them so they can check on the person.
If you notice these signs or others in your coworker, you should not research symptoms in an attempt to diagnose the issue or begin providing support they did not ask for. Not only is this presumptive and unkind – but it is also potentially unlawful and could create legal risks.
Remember that an employee’s mental health status is highly confidential and should always be treated with the greatest care & consideration. If the employee reveals a struggle to you or to someone else, make sure to coordinate with the appropriate company representatives for guidance.
Also, remember this is one more reason that intentionally cultivating connection in remote work is even more crucial than when working onsite. You must create intentional opportunities for social interaction to get to know people and build trust so you can recognize when difficulty arises and offer support. If you have not developed an authentic connection, you may miss or misunderstand changes in their behaviors – which could lead to serious negative consequences and outcomes.
As Mental Health Awareness Month comes to a close, think about those you work with and how you can build better connections with your coworkers and be a better source of support, no matter their level of mental wellness.