It can happen to anyone, even the most reliable of your employees. One day, they arrive at the office and you notice that something’s a little “off”: their mood is somber, they’re distracted, their heart isn’t in their work… and their performance is noticeably down.
At first, you might think it’s just a temporary case of the blues. But what if it’s a serious personal crisis? Divorce, a sick spouse or child, a mental health problem, a cancer diagnosis, financial difficulties: these are some of the traumatic life events your employees might face under your watch.
It is every manager’s responsibility to know how to guide a suffering employee through a difficult personal issue while maintaining a professional relationship (and ensuring their team gets their work done). The important things are being able to recognize a crisis situation, figuring out how to support and encourage the employee, and knowing when and where to draw the line between personal and professional.
Be aware of how your employees are feeling
As a manager, you need to be alert to what is going on with your team so you can quickly recognize the signs of a potential problem. An employee who suddenly stops participating or becomes reclusive, aggressive or critical, is a clear signal of a problem that needs to be immediately addressed. A good employee whose performance has suddenly plummeted has a story, and someone needs to ask about it. That someone is you.
Checking in with your employees regularly will help keep you tuned in to their emotional states. If you’re not paying attention, you might not realize anything’s wrong until your employee makes a serious mistake. By using your emotional intelligence to pick up on employee mood shifts, you’re letting them know that their personal situations – not just their professional ones – are important to you. By being mindful of how your people are doing even before a crisis arises, they’ll know they can come forward and talk to you about it the day that a problem does come up.
Try to accommodate employees in crisis
Perhaps you can provide your employee with a more flexible work schedule, a reduced workload, a work-from-home solution, or even assistance from the company credit union, if financial difficulties are the problem.
From non-profits that give money to families battling illnesses, to platforms like GoFundMe and others that let individuals donate money or services, there are many other resources you can ensure your employee is aware of.
Of course, your employee needs to do the heavy lifting in order to resolve the crisis. Because even though your employee is going through a difficult time, you – as a responsible manager – are still accountable for making sure the work gets done. You can’t allow an employee to operate in crisis mode indefinitely.
If your employee needs time off to deal with their crisis or help with finding resources for support, that’s your job… but be sure to set boundaries: you can’t be a shoulder to cry on 24/7.
The do’s and don’ts of handling personal crises
Carolyn O’Hara, writing for The Harvard Business Review, suggests a set of principles for managers to follow in order to best deal with personal crises.
- Set a tone of compassion in the office. It will not only give your employees confidence to approach you with struggles, but also give you the ability to spot warning signs.
- Be creative with solutions. A flexible schedule may allow a person to maintain their output without much disruption.
- Check in from time to time, both to reassure the employee and to make sure that further adjustments or accommodations aren’t needed.
- Act more like a therapist than a manager. Your heart may be in the right place, but don’t get involved in your employee’s personal problems.
- Make promises you can’t keep. Research your company’s policies before you offer time off or alternative work arrangements.
- Treat similar situations among employees differently. Employees will note — and resent — the inconsistency.
By following these suggestions, you’ll find yourself better prepared to meet the challenge of an employee’s personal crisis with empathy, compassion, efficiency – and professionalism.