We all have personal struggles from time to time. We may have children with behavioral difficulties, spousal disagreements that weigh heavily on us, or deaths of close friends and family members that disrupt our lives for weeks, if not longer. And sometimes, these issues bleed into our professional working lives.
If you have an employee struggling with a personal issue, you may notice their performance decline. They may not act like their usual selves, and it can cause new conflicts in the working environment.
The best approach, as a leader, is to treat employees with personal struggles with sympathy, respect, and any meaningful support you can provide. So what are the best ways to support employees dealing with personal struggles?
1. Actively Listen.
Broach the subject tactfully and be prepared to actively listen. Some employees will be reluctant to open up, and some will certainly prefer to keep their issues as private as possible. But some employees will be open to talking to you, and they’ll be glad to have an opportunity to vent or get support.
During these conversations, it’s important for you to ask lots of open questions and let the employee do the talking. You may be tempted to give them advice, or assume that you already know what they’re going through, but this could make matters worse; you’re usually better off sitting back and listening, especially if the employee is upset.
2. Recommend Options.
Depending on the situation, it may be appropriate to recommend options for help or support. For example, ABA therapy has an excellent track record of helping children with ASD overcome their behavioral difficulties. Marriage counseling could be an effective source of resolution for couples going through a dispute. And support groups are indispensable for coping with grief, overcoming addiction, or dealing with trauma.
If you do recommend options like these, be as specific as possible. Generic statements, like “you should get help” aren’t useful. Provide the names of institutions, phone numbers, or websites when possible.
3. Respect Privacy.
Always respect the privacy of your employees. If your employee opens up to you, don’t talk about their issues with other people. Additionally, if and when you have conversations with this employee, keep the door closed and keep the conversation off the record.
4. Give Space (and Time Off).
Many employees will benefit from additional space and time off. Don’t hover over them and don’t ask them to have a deep conversation with you every day. Instead, let them deal with their own issues on their own terms, and recommend that they take time off to address this issue.
5. Set Expectations.
While it’s important to be sympathetic and helpful to employees going through personal issues, it’s also important to remain a firm leader and ensure the productivity of your team. To this end, you should set proactive expectations so your employee knows what you need from them.
- Performance. Grief and personal issues can impact anyone’s work performance, but this should still be temporary – and not catastrophic for the business. If your employee is making egregious errors, make it clear that they need to remove themselves. If their performance is below expectations, make it clear that they need to improve by a specific time.
- Time off. How much time off is too much? What’s an appropriate amount of time to take off? Don’t encourage your employee to take personal leave, then reprimand them for taking too many days off; be consistent.
- Interactions. Your employee probably won’t be their usual self if they’re struggling with something at home, but make it clear that you still expect them to engage politely and respectfully with other people at the office.
- The future. It would be nice to say “take as much time as you need,” but this isn’t realistic in some scenarios. Consider working together with your employee to set a timeline for recovery.
6. Ask What Else You Can Do.
People deal with their personal issues in different ways, and not everyone needs the same kind of support. If you want to provide additional assistance to your employee, don’t insist on whatever you think is appropriate; instead, ask them what else you can do.
If there’s nothing else you can do, just make it a point to check in regularly.
7. Treat Your Employees Equally.
Part of being a fair boss means treating your employees equally. If you’re going out of your way to help this employee with their personal struggles, you should make the same effort for your other employees if and when they go through personal struggles. Avoid being seen as playing favorites.
Personal struggles of employees do have the potential to disrupt your business and interfere with your goals as an organization. But if you remain patient, understanding, and supportive, you can expedite a return to normalcy and simultaneously support your employee in feeling better.