Q: We have an employee who does not wish to attend out-of-work events and tends to shy away from group discussion. He has explained to me that he is introverted and feels uncomfortable at social gatherings. However, his work performance is excellent. Is there anything I can do to help him, or should I let him be, as he seems happy in himself?

A: In this case one might easily assume that this employee may suffer from social anxiety disorder or a related condition. However, if his experience of discomfort at social gatherings is neither affecting his ability to produce outstanding work nor leaving him unhappy, this may not be the case. The employee describes himself as an introvert, which refers to a personality trait where a person generally gains enjoyment from solitary activities, preferring to focus on individual tasks and interactions with close friends or colleagues. If this is the case, then trying to help the employee could be construed as offensive or inconsiderate, and should be approached with sensitivity.

To some extent, most people feel social anxiety. It is essentially an uncomfortable feeling of nervousness felt in certain social situations. The degree to which this is experienced varies from person to person, and can be considered a mental health problem if it significantly interferes with a person’s ability to carry out such everyday tasks as working, socialising or shopping.

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Given that the employee in question is experiencing an element of this in group settings at work, it may be worthwhile discussing any concerns you have with the employee and to identify whether or not he feels he would benefit from further support.

This support could take the form of sessions with a counsellor, or medication prescribed by a GP. However, a more straightforward and often more effective approach is to consider whether small, sensitive changes at work may be of more help.

The best approach to this would be to meet with the employee informally in a confidential setting to discuss how his difficulty with social interaction is impacting on work group discussions, and how he can be supported in working towards improving this. This meeting should be from a supportive standpoint, aiming to ascertain whether anything could be done to help the individual overcome shying away from group discussions. Ultimately if all support given does not improve this situation, the individual may be unable to participate in these discussions. In this eventuality you would need to evaluate whether the discussions form an essential part of his role, and how his role could be managed in the future.

David Price is managing director of Health Assured