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The Question

One of my direct reports can be quite emotional in the office. Once or twice a month, they'll get visibly upset and tear up in a team meeting and colleagues have reported that they've seen the employee crying outside of the office. We've talked one-on-one (during which they also got visibly upset) and came to the conclusion that the issues they are facing are related to emotional regulation, self-confidence, and feeling overwhelmed rather than depression.

I’ve asked the direct report how I can best support them and they didn’t know what I could do. I want to be an empathetic manager, but the productivity of my team is suffering from the crying episodes. Our company is very small, so I don’t have an HR or health and wellness person to help me. What can I do?

The First Answer

Eileen Chadnick, principal, Big Cheese Coaching, Toronto: Kudos to your commitment to be an empathic, supportive manager and for starting the conversation.

While mental health and emotional well-being is a spectrum and certainly not only defined by depression, overwhelm can be distressful and even debilitating if one is unable to handle the stress and loads of work and life.

When overwhelmed, one may not know how to ask for specific support. For starters, consider helping them (either directly, or through an external support) to develop prioritizing skills, goal setting and time management habits. With sensitivity, ask if they are getting enough sleep which significantly impacts one’s thinking abilities, mood and ability to manage stress and emotions.

Confidence comes with both experience and self-awareness. As a leader, help them notice their accomplishments and strengths – and coach them to work with their strengths productively.

With the right support, one can learn to better regulate their emotional reactivity, but every situation is unique. There may be much more at hand here so know your limits and boundaries. Be prepared, if necessary, to refer to additional external resources – be it a coach specializing in emotional intelligence and related needs, a psychologist or therapist, or a combination.

Every leader should be equipped with skills and resources to support these and other situations. Consider further developing your leader-as-coach skills. As well, CAMH has developed a Mental Health Playbook for Business Leaders (

While this is a much bigger conversation, remember this: Human leaders can build humane workplaces which lead to more trust, productivity and better lives and communities all around. Lead with that in mind and you’ll be off to a good start.

The Second Answer

Greg Conner, vice-president, human resources, BC Transit, Vancouver: As a leader, it is always good to be prepared to deal with the many and varied personal and professional challenges that face the people you work with. To my mind, personal issues are no different than performance-based issues – they all have an impact on the workplace, but there is help at hand. Being prepared is the first step, so just like a performance discussion, make sure you look at all resources available to you and your employee. For example, do you have an employee assistance program? If not, look for community resources that help people build resiliency. Next, if there are identifiable triggers that set your colleague off, make sure there is a private area where they can be and not disturb their colleagues during those moments of personal crisis.

Then I would suggest the most important thing you can do is get yourself certified as a “mental health first aid attendant”. One out of five people will suffer a significant mental health issue in their lifetime which means you can play a pivotal role in helping those you work with weather those mental storms. The course is not time-consuming and the certification will help you connect your colleague with the right resources at the right time. Once we all begin to see mental health issues in the same light as other health issues such as sprains and strains, the more likely it is we will help keep people productively at work with resilient mental health.

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