Managing Difficult Employees with Health Issues

Managing difficult employees who try to hide behind their physical or mental illness can be challenging and frustrating. 

This situation is not as rare as you might think. Here at Intrepidus we have assisted many companies in dealing with difficult employees who have complex health issues.


Non-stigmatisation of the employee is what it is about

When faced with difficult employees who have health issues, counselling them about their poor performance can be confronting and emotionally charged for both the employee and the manager.

So, let’s grasp the nettle – many managers avoid tackling the performance issues as they are scared of offending or being seen as uncaring about the employee’s health. Many employees are defensive, and may be unaware of the consequences of their poor performance, or some may use their health as a crutch to avoid taking responsibility.

Of course organisations and their managers must be supportive and accommodating to those with physical or mental illness. The non-stigmatisation of health issues, particularly mental health issues, is key to successful performance management and to achieving individual and organisational goals. As with all employees, ensure the employee has a position description with key objectives and performance criteria. If the employee’s condition dictates that the performance criteria need to be modified this should be accommodated where practical. For example, an individual may need additional time to complete certain tasks or additional time away from the workplace.

Once agreed upon, these criteria become the standard upon which the employee should be judged in respect to their performance.


What to do

Having health issues – possibly with altered performance criteria – does not preclude an employee from potentially being difficult to manage. Where their behaviour is proving to be unsatisfactory, if it is left unchallenged this is bound to affect the rest of the staff; morale will then drop, productivity will suffer and you will start to have retention problems. Don’t let issues slide because you are fearful about how to tackle them.

The broad methodology for a performance improvement plan is exactly the same in these instances as it is for employees who do not suffer from physical or mental illness. Refer to our blog – It’s hard being a boss: Part 1 – Managing difficult employees.

When conducting performance counselling, managers should provide reasonable workplace support to ensure the employee has sufficient time and resources to take in the nature of the performance issues and to understand what is expected of them. The employee may also need additional time and resources to respond, either to explain their behaviour or to give commitments in respect to future performance.

Ultimately, any extra time and support you provide will be worth the effort in assisting an employee to reach the required standards and to create a positive workplace culture. Be aware that if your employee does not choose to respond positively, this will be all about their level of commitment, work performance and attitude and not the result of them having a health issue.

If you have any comments of require assistance contact or email Intrepidus.

Design • Implement • Support

Through our blog, we wish to give you a comprehensive insight into the world of Intrepidus HR, where our overall goal is to inspire businesses to improve themselves and their people.

Do you wish to discuss a particular business improvement topic or even contribute a guest Blog article? If yes, please contact Simon Campbell at Intrepidus Human Resource Consulting.

If you or your organisation requires input or assistance in establishing or enhancing your positive organisational culture, please contact Intrepidus Human Resources Consulting for assistance.  Intrepidus can assist with the design, implementation and support of employee surveys, analysis and action plans, employee briefings, and employee communication and engagement initiatives. 

Furthermore, contact Intrepidus for assistance with one on one performance feedback for teams and individuals and all your complex human work issues.


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Intrepidus Human Resource Consulting

Intrepidus is a human resources and industrial relations consultancy based out of Melbourne. We help clients with difficult people issues, HR & IR strategy, and more. If you want to find out how we assist with workplace issues, you can contact us at  or give us a ring on +61 401 716 818.