Complex topic, but Mutant advice is welcome

I work at a very small startup with a wonderful HR dept. I manage hackers and generally wonderful intelligent. But complex people.

When it comes to people that are 100% performing their day to day tasks, but you see historical signs of self abuse (like scars from cutting) do you do anything?

I suspect the audience here has some opinions. And while our hr is awesome, i don’t know if they have any experience.

A reply of “butt out” is legit :). Regardless a fellow mutant thought is appreciated.

Just to clarify, does this mean that you have no particular reason to think that it is ongoing?


I just recently started HR school, but the specific topic of responsibility for perceived self-harm (as in ethical/legal risk) hasn’t come up yet. Therefore, this should not be construed as expert advice, in any way.

That said, my gut feeling is that one should approach this as one might a suspicion of drug/alcohol abuse, domestic violence, etc. Namely, if it isn’t having a negative effect on the individual’s work performance, it probably isn’t appropriate to directly confront. Like, at all.

I could see a case where someone was putting off signals of serious depression, addiction, or what have you, where it might be okay to ask after their well-being, in a careful, roundabout way. But it doesn’t sound like this is the case, here. (If you were this person’s friend, not their manager, there might be more wiggle room…)

If it feels safe (i.e. you trust they won’t make an overzealous error), you might consider running this past your HR dept., strictly as a “hypothetical.” After all, if someone’s personal life was actually harming the general work environment, they’d be the ones who would handle those sorts of conversations.


Never seen such a thing myself.

Me? No. I try not to question or interfere with the past of strangers & co-workers unless it is interfering with the present.

First off, are these marks fresh? How can you tell they’re not from another source? Has this person shared their medical history with you?

From the point of view of a formerly employed person with, well, let’s just say “mental wellness issues”…

Unless this person has reached out to you or it’s affecting their work, it’s none of your business. Really. I can’t stress this enough.

Mental illness is a career-killer. Even word of mouth can kill opportunities for advancement in a small industry. Even the nicest HR dept. is not the friend of the employee. HR are like the cops. They are there to protect the company, any help they offer is only in service of that goal alone.

You don’t know what demons your employee is wrestling and you are absolutely not equipped to deal with them. Perhaps they are dealing with things by channeling their energy into their work, giving them a felling of self-worth by proving to themselves that they are as good as anyone else. Perhaps they see their job as a sanctuary from their other issues. Or perhaps they’re on the way back up, putting it all behind them, rebuilding their life.

I know you’re wanting to help because you really want the best for your staff. In this case, the best you can do is be even-handed, supportive of all your staff and create the sort of environment anyone who needs help feels able to reach out, if they need it.

Besides, they might just really be into that style of edge-play and you’ve misread things. :wink:

You sound like a good boss. Sit back and let them be a good worker.


Unless they start arriving to work with fresh wounds, I wouldn’t even worry about it. Scarification, cutting, branding, etc. can be signs of ritual activity, body modification, or any number of other non-harmful activities.

It can be embarrassingly hypocritical when a company unthinkingly cheers pride in their powerful and respected brand, but harass an employee SWIMs about brands on their upper arm. Same goes for rejection of tattoos in the work environment. Corporate types are (un-ironically!) supposed to be savvy about logos and branding.


Thanks, and this is exactly why I asked in a pseudo anonymous place. I have no reason to believe it is on going, but in my personal life I have had friends that eventually needed help.

Staying aware but keeping out of the situation unless it looks like an emergency is probably the right thing.


The crux of the reason I really asked this question is we provide benefits from our company that can help. Hell, I have used them :). But like all have said so far I probably shouldn’t even mention or suggest that route for about a thousand reasons unless it is interfering with his job.

As a side note he mentioned that two of his previous managers called him to his face “unmanageable”–which made me laugh. He is more similar to me than anyone else I have worked with :smiley:



Bytheway, I want to clarify that my opinion on this is shaped in no small part by having been on the receiving end of any number of humiliating “are you a drunk/are you effed up on the clock” conversations. I mean, I was a drunk. But I wasn’t getting messed up on the clock, and my personal hell was not otherwise inconveniencing my coworkers (I say this after years of distance and reflection, too). I came in on time and did good work; probably called in “sick” two times in ten years. And I was actually ill one of those times.

Miss-handling this sort of thing can really sour an otherwise smooth work relationship; sounds like you get that, and have good, empathetic motives for your concern, to boot.

As for “pseudo anonymous” questions, have you ever checked out AskMetafilter? That’s kind of their deal, and it’s heavily moderated for tone/helpfulness. Not to knock the excellent BBS, but there’s even less chance of getting snarky, derailing replies.


I say that this is a good first step, asking some friendly mutant types. It’s a good first step because you might better know what to do when/if there are ever issues with this employees performance.

As for your company having good benefits I will say that when I was doing therapy, I paid cash money for it. Some people are just that private, and have every right to be. So, maybe you could go the route of further communicaing these work benefits to -everyone-, without targeting the individual.

As a side note, I thought an acquaintance had a similar issue once. What i did not know about was the second job at the bakery, the one with the very hot oven door that would get her about once every 2 weeks or so, somewhere on one of her arms. She always had at least one one to two inch long scar/scab on one of her arms. I finally asked, but there was no reason for me not to ask. Good luck!


This is actually a very good point. I’m laughing to myself, because it totally didn’t occur to me. Which is ironic, since in my former life I was a goddamn chef. My arms probably made me look like a black-site escapee.


groan!! :slight_smile:

I really appreciate this. Sometimes when you empathize with a person it can cloud ones judgment, which is why I posed the question to this (eloquent, non judgmental, intelligent) audience.

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The best managers are those that establish a trusting and caring relationship for their charges. Show as much care for the people as you show for their labor, and they will reach out to you if they need to.

I’ve not had the experience where HR knows the individual person better than the manager. What I usually see is a nervous manager contacts HR, HR gets nervous because they have even less info/relationship with the employee, and things spiral out of hand pretty quick.

For an analogy, you want to avoid asking people if they are druggies just because you see a full sleeve of tattoos.

All of that said, if you start to see the warning signs, don’t ignore them. You might need to take action. A trusted peer manager, or trusted HR person, would be a person to help you do a reality check to see if your reaction is appropriate and not over/under.

warning signs

(note, scars on arms is on neither list)


Something that occurs to me is that it’s one thing to say, “You’re a great employee, but about those scars…” It’s something entirely different to say, “You’re an awful employee - and about those scars…” If you bring it up at all, you might wait until some praise is already on the agenda.

Fuckin A. A friend of mine put it like this: ‘Kitchen people are like a different people. If you’re not one, you’ll never understand. But you’ll have a lot less cuts and addictions.’ Very quotable chef, my mate Sammy.


Number one comment!

Hell no. If an employee is performing at 100% I reward them. “Historical signs” are none of your business. Unless they are carving themselves up at their desk, it is not your thing.

Also: Not Complex. Topic very simple. Be thrilled someone is performing at 100%, treat them well.


My apologies. Please delete this thread

nah, it’s a good question that can stymie or flummox otherwise good people.

seeking consultation is always best when one is beyond one’s depth.

No shame in asking questions about things you haven’t run into yet.

We don’t talk enough (as a society) about suicide, or depression.