What To Do When Employees Bring Personal Struggles Into The Workplace
When you work as part of a team, there is an inherent social aspect to it. Workers are individuals who each have their own personalities, likes, dislikes, and lives outside of the office. When channeled properly, this can actually be an advantage as your team members build synergy and are able to work together. They build relationships with each other, support each other, and can achieve great results when they have developed that connection. On occasion, their team can even be a source of relief when they are experiencing trials outside of the workplace.
But what if their personal problems begin to take over their work life as well? Studies show that almost half (47 percent) of employees admit that their personal problems sometimes have an effect on their workplace performance. Not only can this impact their their work metrics, but it can have a negative effect on their team members. Workers who have to pick up the slack for a teammate who isn’t carrying their weight can begin to feel the strain and allow their own performance to suffer. Eventually, if the situation is not handled properly, that one worker’s struggle becomes the entire team’s issue. So what are you, as a manager, supposed to do?
Make sure that work isn’t the source of the problem
One of the first things to do when you see a worker bringing non-work problems to the office is to determine that it is a non-work problem. Take a look at what stress the company may be causing the worker. The employee’s workload may be completely unrelated to the issue, or it may be the root of the problem. If you are the cause of the problem, then you might need to reassess the load you are assigning the worker, or it may be necessary for you to take yourself out of the process of fixing things by handing the situation to Human Resources.
Speak directly to the employee
Once you have determined that there is a problem, you should speak with the employee directly. Gather information beforehand, but make sure that you address the problem before too long. Employees tend to notice if you are asking questions about them but avoiding addressing the issue directly, and it can cause additional stress that will exacerbate the problem.
When you speak to them, address the issue, and cite specific examples if possible. You don’t need to be accusatory, but be direct. Make it clear that you are trying to solve the problem and not implying that the employee is a problem.
Don’t pry too deeply, but be willing to listen
While events outside the office may be impacting your employee’s work inside the office, it’s not your place to ask for specifics. If a worker is having marital troubles, it’s not your place to ask them to explain the problems they are having. Stick with a just-the-facts approach, letting the employee know that things need to improve.
Remember, you may be the worker’s manager, but you are not their therapist. As tempting as it may be to dig deeper to find the root of the problem, that is not your place. Respect the employee’s privacy, but be sympathetic to any troubles they do bring up.
Be sympathetic but fair
Your employees will notice whether you seem to care about the problems they are having. Don’t be dismissive of their behavior. Not only will the employee in question take note, their co-workers will also see how you treat them. Even if your company is not legally required to give them time off, you may want to consider it depending on the exact circumstances.
Remember to keep the focus on the behavior, rather than the employee himself or herself. By using words such as “I” and “we,” rather than “you,” it is possible to avoid alienating the employee. A problem can be solved, but if the employee sees himself as the problem, the problem is more likely to persist.
Keep your other employees in mind as well, though. By giving one employee special treatment, the others may be required to put in more work, which is also unfair and may lead to other employees having their own personal problems. If a worker’s behavior is unacceptable, be direct about that fact and let them know.
Refer the employee to appropriate resources
While it is not your place to act as a therapist, you can certainly be the employee’s advocate and point them in the right direction. Let them know of resources the company has for employees in their situation. If necessary, work as an intermediary between them and coworkers with whom they may be having issues. Give them recommendations on people with whom they can speak.
Remember, the keyword here is appropriate. Now is not the time for a manager to offer their employee personal advice. It may not be appropriate, for example, to hand an employee who is experiencing marital stress to a list of divorce attorneys. However, feel free to suggest they talk to a human resources representative (who would be outside of their direct chain of command), or even recommend they talk to a professional counselor or friend. Don’t take it beyond a brief suggestion, but point them in the right direction.
While employee problems can impact the entire team, being a part of a team can also be a support system. Work with your employees to solve problems, both at work and at home, and they will perform better and more efficiently.
Carol Evenson is a business consultant specializing in process automation and employee wellness. She has worked with Fortune 1000 companies and currently assists organizations within the US and UK. Follow her on Twitter.
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