Performance management

Resources for supporting performance in a psychologically safe way, even when mental health is an issue. These strategies focus on solutions that also support employee well-being.

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This section offers additional information to assist you in Developing employee plans for leaders to address performance issues taking mental health into account. It can also be useful to review before resolving conflict, return-to-work or accommodation planning. At each of these stages, effectively resolving performance issues can help protect the mental health of the employee.

Why this matters

Some workplaces have adopted performance management processes that focus primarily on intervening only when an employee is not performing at their best or as expected. While it’s important to address and resolve what’s not working, focusing on the negative tends to reduce motivation for the employee and often the leader as well. If the employee is also experiencing mental health issues, there’s a risk that this approach may result in a worsening of both the symptoms and the work performance. Effectively supporting good performance is an important management skill and the suggestions here can be applied whether or not an employee has a mental health issue.

Check your bias

Any leader who fails to recognize their own implicit bias is likely to unintentionally allow bias in to their performance support and reviews. It’s well established that we all have bias, even if for no other reason than our limited exposure to different cultures and experiences. We often see, hear and accept what we expect to see, hear and accept. 

The following questions developed by Paola Cecchi-Dimeglio1 can help you explore any hidden bias before you engage with an employee on the topic of performance:

  • How and when do they contribute? Are their contributions valuable?
  • What was their output compared with what they were asked to deliver?
  • What specific data and observations justify your assessment?
  • Would you have given the same feedback if the employee had been a person of a different race and/or a different gender?
  • It’s not unusual to unconsciously favour those who are similar to us. Your responsibility as a leader is to recognize this bias and take steps to consciously avoid it. When you begin your discussion with the employee, comment on things that you have in common such as the work, good things happening in the organization or community, or shared hobbies or interests. From this place of similarity, you are less likely to allow bias to creep in and more likely to objectively focus on the employee’s ideas and achievements.
  • To learn more about checking your bias and being inclusive, see Inclusion strategies for leaders

Performance and mental health issues

Many employees do their work while experiencing mental health issues such as depression or anxiety with little impact on productivity. Of course, like any illness, there are situations in which the individual is not able to work due to the severity of the condition. However, in most cases, supportive performance management can be the key to continued productivity.

"Rule out" rule

When you have identified a performance concern, rule out the possibility that it may be related to a mental health issue before you consider disciplinary action. While human rights usually prevent you from asking about a diagnosis, if you suspect a mental health issue, you can continue to support performance in a psychologically safe way. But if you think it’s necessary to begin disciplinary action, you should first apply the “rule out” rule. To learn more about when accommodation is necessary, see Legal duty to accommodate.

Communicate without judgment

Be aware of your assumptions and judgments about an employee's behaviour. While these are part of human behaviour, it is possible to communicate without allowing these to dictate or influence your response. Learn how with Practicing non-judgmental interpretations.

Consider emotional triggers

It’s important to understand and manage your own reaction to an employee's performance or behaviour at work. Learning more about Emotional triggers can help with this.

Be supportive and clear

When mental health issues such as chronic mental stress, burnout, anxiety or depression are present, performance management needs to be especially supportive and clear. 

  • Supportive performance management focuses on the intended outcomes rather than the problem. This makes the conversation feel less like criticism and more like a collaboration focused on a solution.

    Example: Instead of saying "This report is full of errors," you might say, "We need this report to be error-free. What do you need to make that happen?"

  • Be clear to avoid misinterpretation. Example: Instead of saying, "Don't be late for meetings," you might say, "I need you to be at meetings at least one minute before they start. How can I help you to do that?" Learn more about Communicating with clarity.
  • For more tips see Communicating with emotional employees.

Relate issues to performance rather than personality

Example: Instead of saying "You're being disrespectful to the team when you're late for meetings," you could say, "When you are not present at the beginning of the meeting we miss out on your contribution to the issues, or we need to take more time to cover the issue again."

Highlight strengths first

This could include emphasizing an employee's effort, value to the team, or previous accomplishments.

Separate acknowledging from agreeing

Rather than agreeing or disagreeing, try to demonstrate an understanding of the other person's perspective before you offer your own opinion. Learn how to Distinguish acknowledgment from agreement.

Build on existing strengths

When mental health is a factor, it is especially important to engage the employee in developing their own solutions and build on existing strengths. The following articles provide tips and strategies to help achieve these goals:

Resolving performance issues

A process that is sensitive, positive and constructive can help the employee feel valued and better able to perform. The following are some ideas to help make your performance management strategy more supportive.

Prepare for the conversation

Prepare for a conversation about performance by reviewing Questions to ask before engaging the employee. Have the employee prepare for the conversation by completing the Workload reflection and discussion tool.

Work with employees to create an objective measure of performance

The Task improvement process | PDF  and Task improvement worksheet | PDF  can be integrated with your existing performance management approaches to help focus on specific tasks that may be challenging for an employee.

  • To avoid the appearance of being punitive, this review could be done annually with all employees and more often with those struggling with performance issues. 
  • The intent is to use this approach to help support success, uncover challenges and develop solutions. 
  • In discussing challenges, be open to recognizing how your approach or management style may be problematic for some employees. 
  • When discussing the tasks, be sure to ask the employee about any other tasks they do that you are not aware of.
  • Conduct the review over a set period of time (e.g. one to two weeks after completing the Task improvement worksheet | PDF, arrange to get back together to assess how it worked out).
  • Acknowledge with the employee that while the development of the review may seem tedious, it will provide long-term value to help you gain a better understanding of how to support them in all aspects of their job.

Follow up and follow through

As outlined in Developing employee plans for leaders, scheduling time for follow-up reinforces your ongoing commitment to the employee's success and well-being. This also helps ensure that issues are addressed and changes made as required.

  • If successful, commit to follow through on the results of the review and share praise and recognition for what has been accomplished.
  • If not successful, clarify next steps, which could be a modified approach, an accommodation if the challenge is related to a disability, or beginning progressive discipline if necessary.

If the employee is eligible for accommodation or there are multiple tasks and job performance issues to consider, you may want to look at the more comprehensive Supporting employee success tool.

Creating positive team culture

There are many tools and resources to help you create a positive team culture, including Psychologically safe team assessment, the Team agreement process, tips around supporting Hybrid teams and team building discussions using the On the agenda workshop series.

Build a positive environment

Constructive feedback and positive reinforcement are cornerstones of a healthy and respectful workplace. Regularly engage employees in developing positive solutions to any workplace issue to help reduce negativity and defensiveness. Team building activities can help increase team cohesiveness and resilience.

Have ongoing dialogue

Discussion about performance is less stressful when it is part of everyday dialogue. Regularly set measurable goals, provide consistent feedback and sustain ongoing conversations about performance with all employees.

Listen as much as you talk

Employees are more likely to be engaged when they feel they’re being heard. Improve effective listening techniques for all employees with resources such as Listening to understand for leaders.

Strengthen relationships

Tough conversations around performance can be less stressful if a trusting relationship already exists between you and the employee. See Strengthening relationships to learn more.

Increasing manager competency

An important skill to develop is the ability to focus on employee strengths while still supporting productivity and performance. This can be particularly effective when working with employees who may be experiencing mental health issues.

These skill sets are not easily acquired through reading books, articles or web pages. The process described under Developing employee plans for leaders can help improve your approach to performance management.

The Psychologically Safe Leader Assessment provides an opportunity to assess and improve strategies related to psychological health and safety in areas that can impact performance management.

Emotional intelligence for leaders provides activities to improve emotional intelligence related to leading, managing and supporting employees.

Performance management and interviewing tools

The Canadian Centre for Substance Use and Addiction has done significant work in the area of behavioural and technical competencies. While The Competencies for Canada's Substance Abuse Workforce was developed for the addiction field, they provide a valuable resource that helps identify specific and measurable skills, knowledge, attitudes and values important to good management of people.

They also provide supporting tools to help individuals adopt and apply the competencies in their work settings.

These tools can help facilitate learning and development strategies for staff, and support the hiring and retention of skilled people. This resource applies directly to those working in supervision, administration and senior management. Review their practical and adaptable resources:

Interviewing tools and questions | PDF – Interviewing for a Supervisor Position

Interviewing tools and questions | PDF  – Interviewing for a Senior Management Position

Performance management tools | PDF  – Supervisor Performance Review

Performance management tools | PDF  – Senior Management Performance Review

Workshop materials

These workshops are intended for an audience of people leaders. All materials are free to use.

Building trust workshop

This workshop is for those who manage, support or lead employees. In this workshop, you'll learn to build trust and support employee success.

Supporting task improvement workshop

This workshop is for those who manage, support or lead employees. This process helps employees accomplish tasks effectively through creating their own measurable path to success.



1. Cecchi-Dimeglio, P. (2018). Designing Equality In The Legal Profession: A Nudging Approach. Harv. Negot. L. Rev., 24, 1.


Contributors include.articlesGord ConleyMary Ann BayntonPhilip Perczak

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