One of the more complicated issues a family business can face is dealing with a family member who is suffering from a mental health disorder. I’ve seen it firsthand not only in my client families but in my own family business.
When a family member is dealing with anxiety or depression it can manifest itself in a variety of ways:
- Poor job performance
- Social awkwardness
- Moodiness or mood swings
- Inability to work with others
When any employee has these types of work issues it’s a problem but when it’s a family member it can have an even farther reaching impact on the business.
Think about your own uneasiness when you know someone who is struggling with mental health issues but then imagine if it is an owner, or son/daughter of the owner.
The first thing we need to remember is that these conditions are the result of a medical issue not a character issue. It’s tempting to think that someone should just “work harder” or “get over” their difficulty working with others. Unfortunately it’s not that easy for people dealing with these issues.
One the best places to start is what I like to call “loving compassion”. When you can come with a warm heart you can approach the person in a gentle, non threatening manner. You want to ask them how they are doing in regard to both their job and their overall satisfaction with their work.
Most of the time those questions will open the door to some dialogue about their health and happiness. Here’s where it can get tricky. Unless you are a mental health professional, your mission is to simply encourage them to seek professional help.
If the person is in denial about how they are performing or impacting others then you have to take a more courageous approach and begin to share your observations. It’s important to focus on work behaviors and results. Examples that might be part of a job description might be:
- Ability to have a consistent positive attitude at work
- Ability to get along with co-workers
- Ability to get positive customer service ratings from customers (internal or external)
You should try to make the focus of the conversation the business results the company needs to be successful. You want to avoid the appearance of making a personal attack. If there are performance issues, you want to make sure and create a plan and measurement to turn around their performance. That conversation might be the right place to encourage them to seek medical help.
The bottom line is that anxiety and depression are medical disorders. It is important for the business leaders and family leaders to create the right supportive environment to try to resolve the issues. Left unattended these issues can erupt into serious problems that could have a catastrophic effect on the family and the business.
Mental Health Issues are one of 15 landmines found in our Family Business Landmine Detection Kit which can be seen here.