For the most part, she is a great person with integrity, concern for both the tasks and people in the workplace and genuinely a great coworker; however, sometimes she demonstrates behaviors that would indicate that she may have a mental health challenge. And more importantly she is your boss.
It is important to know that someone in a position of leadership and authority can have a mental illness. No one is inoculated from mental health challenges. Working for someone who has a mental health challenge can be very disconcerting, causing you as an employee to feel overwhelmed by not knowing how to handle the situation. Taking action can be very difficult because unlike an employee, a leader/manager could retaliate if she feels threatened by an employee. Even though there is risk in dealing with someone who has a mental health challenge while possessing formal or legitimate power in the workplace, something has to be done when it impacts performance or causes disruptions in the workplace.
I think what makes this such a sensitive and difficult matter is that often people who have an undiagnosed mental health challenge may be unaware of their behaviors. You need to be cautious around these issues. Talk to others to confirm what you are sensing or observing. What you are concerned about really needs to be behaviors and symptoms observed over time. Be careful of the whole perception around mental health. Be very sensitive, plan to discuss observed behaviors, the length of those behaviors and the impact of those behaviors. We all want to work in a safe and productive workplace that could be impacted by mental health. So, it is important to raise those concerns. Here are three approaches that you can take:
According to one director of an Employee Assistance Program, "You must first acknowledge that there are some unknown factors: supervisor may not know and employee may not know, but there are significant behaviors. Therefore, determine the impact that the behavior is having on the workplace and performance. If there is symptomology of raising voices, etc., we encourage people to speak to EAP, and encourage the person to make a self-referral."
This is great in an ideal world where the company has an Employee Assistance Program, but often small businesses do not. Therefore, the director adds that when there is no one to really turn to, there are other approaches that a subordinate can take. If the employee is feeling threatened or uncomfortable, it's important for that employee to reach out for support within the organization.
An employee may want to bring in the support of a co-worker, preferably a peer of that manager to avoid having her feeling ganged-up on. You can then collectively express your concerns based on changes in her behavior that she may be unaware of. You would also want to share with her how her behavior is impacting you personally or the organization in general. You really want to show empathy and concern by stating that maybe 'we' can help you to get some assistance around stress, depression or anxiety. Show that you are there to help and not judge or condemn.
Another approach is based on comfortability around having the conversation, the director explains. "If the relationship is good then you may be able to have an 'I' message," he says. "'This is what I'm seeing and this is what I'm feeling. This is what I need to feel more comfortable under your management.'" This takes courage but it is possible and reasonable in a small entrepreneurial environment where relationships are much closer knit than in large corporations.
Lastly, if you are uncomfortable addressing the issue, you will want to have a conversation with the person's manager. Remember to focus on behaviors and not assumptions about mental health. "Take the stance that you are coming from an angle of concern versus a stance of this person is yelling at me and I'm not going to tolerate it," says the director I spoke with. This can be a very personal matter that an employee is hesitant to take on and handle alone. I often say that there are only three ways to deal with a situation in the workplace: (1) stay and take it, (2) stay and change it, and (3) leave. If this is a problem that is causing you to either resent your boss, feel intimidated/uncomfortable or simply frustrated, I recommend that you stay and change it, by addressing the situation.
When I look back at how I behaved in the workplace with an undiagnosed mood disorder, I can truly understand how and why employees walked on egg shells. I have to be honest, not every employee could have approached me with their concerns because I thought that my actions were normal; however, there were a few people, i.e. people on the leadership team who could tip me off that a behavior was over the top. But I wish that they had had more courage to really point out the many behaviors that caused high turnover. If someone was able to couch my behavior with financial loss and possible litigation, it would have gotten my attention as a businessperson. To make a difference you want to figure out that manager's pain point, and with logic and a business case share with her how her behavior is impacting the organization's bottom line.