I lead a team of consultants. Recently, I removed a colleague from the team due to performance issues. He was with the team for 6-8 weeks. I suspect he had mental health issues. A co-team lead, who speaks his native language, talked to him and he denied health or personal issues.

Project-wise or disciplinary, he is "not my problem" any more, which makes this question about the contradicting goals of not causing him not to potentially needed professional help and be supported by the company and not potentially harming his career by needlessly speculating.

Currently, he is still with the company. My opinion that he has mental health issues was getting firmer and firmer, because his performance was bad beyond imagination. He showed, what in my opinion are, clear symptoms of a quickly developing mental issue. For example, when analyzing his emails over the two months, there was a clear deterioration in coherence. He had concentration issues or memory problems inconsistent with his academic record.

So, the situation is like this:

  • I suspect a mental issue which, if untreated, has bad consequences for him, which should be avoided. However, this is speculation, and I do not want to get him into trouble over it.
  • If I did not take the mental issue into account, I would recommend firing him on the basis of his performance, which should not be done without evaluating if he can actually recover.
  • I need to warn the manager about putting him on another project with the customer. His performance hurts our reputation with the customer, and we had to put in additional effort to clean up after him, which I feel obliged to report to his manager.
  • I assume he will not get help from the company without me intervening.

How should I balance between reporting to HR/management about a colleague's suspected health issue, making sure that his current performance is known to the manager, and the colleague getting support from the company?

Note: I am not looking for answers addressing the legal issues around the question.

Added after answers:

Why i believe he has a mental health issue:

He has a masters degree in an engineering subject, however he failed at the following things, which is inconsistent with his academic record:

  • Realizing that a matrix (in that case 18*18) in actually square and working for several hours under the hypothesis that it isn't.
  • in general, being ~10 times slower than he should be at things which are clearly basic math for engineers
  • Not being able to construct a simple math example, suitable for a 10th grade textbook question
  • Not being able to write a modified "hello world" program (only purpose: fill up the harddrive space)
  • not being able to have a focused look and remember the mistake which somebody fixed for him in the hello world program (an crucial operator had to be added), and 10 min later reproducing a few of the characters, without the operator (i.e. instead of " "*10000 he wrote "100000" in python)
  • not being able to communicate problems (e.g. the equation system is singular) in any meaningful or timely way
  • ignoring completely things which he does not understand
  • terribly bad at detecting if he has complete information
  • botched up contextual structure of communication (mostly a sketchy contextualization at best)
  • not being able to follow a 1-3 line long simple instruction (like first do a, then do b very often resulted in him in doing b or something completely different without any communication)
  • complete mis-estimation of his skills (i.e. claiming to be good in a programming language where he checks in code which cant be interpreted)
  • complete misunderstanding of the skills and capacity of the team around him - he would not even recognize the meaning that his colleague or me realized problems (math, simple linear algebra - roughly 1st semester) in 10seconds which he worked for on for a whole day
  • not understanding the hierarchy in the team or any other social structure
  • not drawing his conclusions from being reprimanded after a few weeks about his performance an behavior
  • Trying to advocate using a certain low-level concept in software for a change of the programming language while he should have been working very clearly on something else, with the following properties: We already used one of the languages in the code, but he did not realize it. The language which he wanted to remove (according to him his area of expertise) actually also has the low level feature he claimed not to be available. Himself not having any experience in the other languages which he suggested.
  • his work in general being completely unstructured, even when the structure was explicitly set for him in a "first do this, then report, then do that" way.

Edit: Solution chosen I followed the answer which I selected in the following way: I warned is manager and HR that having him in contact with customers is most likely to be counterproductive for the company, and i described his performance issues in moderate detail. I made it clear that some issues were not plainly unexpected individually, but far outside the expected range of the population with his qualifications. I finished by adding a paragraph were I put a general recommendation to put him to a low stress task and provide him with coaching for his professional development and support in handling situations which exceed his capacity to handle difficult situations professionally.

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    Unless you have any training in medicine, mental health, or psychology, you are in no position to be "diagnosing" mental health issues - and certainly not in any position to be passing that "diagnosis" to anyone else. – HorusKol May 5 '18 at 22:16
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    And yet you have discussed this with your co-founder team lead... – HorusKol May 6 '18 at 3:41
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    @TomTom: what i dont like about that solution (besides that I normally dont meet his manager) is that there is a fine line to gossiping. I believe that if something is important it needs to leave a visible trail. – Sascha May 6 '18 at 11:47
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    @gnasher729: Imagine that there are mental health issues, nobody takes care about them and pressures him more, and they find him at some day locked up in the toilet to avoid the stress with a consecutive stay in a psych hospital for 6 months or him ending up homeless. (So yes, i get what you mean, but keeping my own ass safe is not the only thing i consider here). – Sascha May 6 '18 at 11:52
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    I think what you are trying to say is that you think he has cognitive issues which is very different from mental health issues. – HLGEM May 7 '18 at 13:29

Let his manager manage him. You have observed a few instances of his performance drop, which could potentially affect your company's business. Report those objectively to his manager and let him deal with it. You do not know the real reasons for his poor performance, so do not discuss your opinions and suspicions. Let his manager figure out those reasons, and determine what support he should or could get from the company.

You are clearly trying to help him. However, telling management that he has mental health issues and needs support may not get him that help. It might even cause harm if his actual issue is something different while management gives him "support" for mental health issues.

Ultimately, you will have to support whatever decision the management takes, regardless of whether you agree with it. They could decide to fire him regardless of his reasons, or they could assign him another project with the same customer anyway, or they could offer him the support he needs.

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    Yes, thats my current approach, and I can live with all the decisions which are taken, they don't affect me. But I doubt that his manager will constructively address the issue, that is why i am in some doubt. (And thanks for your great edit to the question!!!) – Sascha May 5 '18 at 20:00
  • I understand what you mean, but unfortunately, the decision on what support the manager can give him is out of your hand, and it might possibly be out of his hand as well, if he has to follow standard company procedures. I am all for lending a helping hand to people, but not all companies look at things that way as far as business goes. – Masked Man May 5 '18 at 20:05

Having read your list of symptoms, I suspect you're jumping to a fairly large conclusion by suspecting mental issues.

There are several other possible reasons for his inaptitude:

  • he doesn't understand your company/work culture.
  • he doesn't have as much experience in your field as he claims.
  • he has misrepresented his qualification or there are gaps in it (it's possible to get a degree and not be an expert in everything).
  • he thinks in a different way from the way you do.
  • he has something personal going on in his life that is distracting him from his work.

If there are existing mental and/or cognitive issues, I would expect that they would have arisen before this point and that other people would have noticed. Especially during the course of his master's degree. If he has been asked about this, and has said that there are no issues, then his word should be taken at face value. Since you don't know for sure what's going on here, it's necessary to be careful to not make an issue where there is none.

I highly recommend that, if you choose to say anything to anyone about him, you stick to the facts: that he did not perform satisfactorily and was not a good fit for your team. Leave it at that and let them draw their own conclusions. If there really are prevalent mental issues, they will also see them and decide how to handle them.

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    +1 Add to this list the possibility that he comes from a culture where it is never done to say they don't understand something. – DJClayworth May 7 '18 at 2:20
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    Thanks for needlessly speculating about something which was not asked. The team is in Western Europe, he is from Western Europe, he was suspervised in the beginning by a colleague who spoke his native tongue, he explicitely stated programming experience when he applied for the project and knew that it was about programming, and nothing which I asked from him required him to be a math or programming genius; the math was 1st semester math - I did not require him to do it right away, but he had several days to do it, enough time to read upon the subjects. – Sascha May 10 '18 at 11:50
  • @Sascha several of my bullet points still apply given what you've said. I will edit the ones that don't. The point being that the symptoms you describe are not particularly indicative of a mental issue and there could be other reasons for his behaviour/inadequacy. In any case, there is only so much you can do in this situation, it is the management's responsibility what happens next. – user77891 May 10 '18 at 12:30
  • Some symptoms are cognitive. But they are so far outside the expected range that it is pretty clear that he can not have passed the exams leading to the degree he has in this condition. I do not want to disclose more here, because I am afraid other members of the team could identify him, should they read the post. The point is that my question was not to give me advice on my opinion about the issue, but about balancing the risk-products for bad consequences for him in the possible communications. – Sascha May 10 '18 at 12:34
  • @Sascha how do you know he's not just lying about his degree? I understand you want to help him, but ultimately he is responsible for his performance and his representation of his skills. If he claims there are no issues, then that should be taken at face value. – user77891 May 10 '18 at 12:37

No, because you shouldn't be making decisions about someone else's health without their consent unless there is an immediate safety issue. Furthermore, it's unnecessary.

For example, when analysing his emails over the two months, there was a clear deterioration in coherence. He had concentration issues or memory problems inconsistent with his academic record...His performance hurts our reputation with the customer, and we had to put in additional effort to clean up after him...

If you think these are things the employee can improve with resources the company makes available, then say so when you have your talk with the other manager:

[Other Manager], I wanted to let you know that we had some problems with [Employee] while he was on my team. His work performance had really started to suffer: [explain]. However, I think he will improve if he makes use of [resources a, b, c].

You can suggest training, time off, etc. without bringing up that you suspect mental health issues.

  1. For a start he has only been in the company for just under 2 months, perhaps this employee is struggling to adapt/learn stuff in the company. Perhaps this is more down to the induction process.

  2. Perhaps this individual needs a mentor for a few months

  3. Perhaps you are misunderstanding this individual

Perhaps the first port of call is to help this individual. Maybe training etc.

And why have you reached the conclusion that it is a mental illness. Maybe this person does have a mental illness but it does not mean that the person cannot work for the company. There are treatments etc. that can enable this person to work productively.

Also people with mental illness can think differently and can end up an asset.

Just provide help.

BTW - You are very likely to have a mental illness once in your life

  • I know that everybody has some mental issues once in his life, which is exactly why I dont want to pass my evaluation of his performance without this hint. If you had read my question carefully, then you would have recognized that it was exactly about making him productive instead of firing him or burning him project after project and make it worse. As for why I think, i think I will elaborate in the question. – Sascha May 6 '18 at 16:49
  • Please read my answer carefully, I do not think that the individual has a mental illness - perhaps require a mentor – Ed Heal May 6 '18 at 17:33
  • It is very funny that you claim that I may be misunderstanding this individual but without having ever worked or talked to him "do not think that the individual has a mental illness". (which is not what I said, I said "mental issues" which is different). – Sascha May 6 '18 at 17:43
  • Please tell me what is the difference between a "metal issue" and a "mental illness". Perhaps my understanding is different from this side of the pond – Ed Heal May 6 '18 at 17:54
  • There are a number of possible reactions to stress, to much work, environment change which are completely in the expected possible range for a healthy person without any precondition, however not sutainable. I would not use the term mental illness for such reactions. But it is important to take care these situations do not cause a long term lasting mental problem. – Sascha May 6 '18 at 19:46

I believe this is a legal question depending on what country you're from. In the USA, the ADA protects employees from this kind of discrimination. In UK they have the same types of laws but I'm not entirely sure of them. Unless you have the blessings from HR, I would not go in this direction.

This guy can win BIG, I mean BIG bucks if you actually did let him go due to a suspected mental health problem. You just best hope he doesn't see a lawyer or ever think of that. It would be like those cartoons where the characters eye balls turn into $ symbols. That's what the lawyer's eye would do.

I say stop right now. Do not continue this path and ask HR before doing anything further.

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    Actually the question was about not letting him go if he has a mental issue since then his bad performance would be explained by that and expected to be temporary. – Sascha May 7 '18 at 22:33

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