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What to Do if an Employee Is Dealing with Personal Issues

Author: Dave Rietsema - Matchr CEO

Every single person will deal with a personal crisis at some point in their lives, whether it is a death in the family, a divorce, or another situation that makes the emotions run high and demands time. Employers and HR managers are tasked with figuring out how best to manage the employee through this time, while also considering the business. Despite our best attempts to separate the professional and the personal, at work personal issues can still come up. 

But what do you do when an employee brings personal problems to work? Employees’ personal problems affecting work is something that HR does need to address. For example, an employee’s family member passing away could cause decreasing business productivity.

Dos and Don’ts for Managing an Employee Through a Personal Crisis

Is an employee’s personal life affecting work? While an employee’s personal life is not technically the purview of HR, the personal and professional aren’t as distinct as may be preferred. A problem at home could affect an employee’s performance at work. Plus, it benefits the company to treat its employees as real people rather than simply as cogs in a machine. Helping an employee handle personal issues shows that the company cares about their wellbeing and can help improve the employee’s performance when the crisis is resolved.

Do Listen and Be Compassionate

If an employee comes to you with a crisis, be sure to focus your undivided attention. Listen respectfully and don’t interject with advice or resolutions until he or she is done filling you in on as much as is comfortable. Be compassionate to the situation, but be careful to stick to the facts and avoid blurring the lines between boss and confidante.

If an employee doesn’t come to you with a problem but is suddenly behaving in a different manner than usual, it may be necessary to call a meeting. Follow the same tips for listening and remaining compassionate, but also let the employee know what it is that brought the matter to your attention so that they are aware of how it is affecting work. This may be news to the employee and may help with figuring out solutions.

It is important, however, to not be too friendly or to act as the employee’s therapist. A manager or an HR professional is, first and foremost, that employee’s boss, not a friend or therapist.

Don’t Be Too Friendly

Asking directly about an employee’s personal life or feeding too much into their story can be dangerous. It may cause accusations of favoritism, creating conflicts with other employees. It may also give the employee a false sense of leniency, which could lead to him or her taking advantage of the situation.

Every employee is different, so it’s important to make determinations about how much to learn about the situation and how much to let others know on a case by case basis. Keep the conversations as professional as possible and steer the employee away from divulging too much.

Don’t Assume the Problem Is at Home

In some cases, the crisis may be the workplace or the workload itself. An employee may feel overwhelmed with deadlines, bullied by a coworker, or trapped within a schedule that doesn’t work. If work is the problem, confronting it head-on may help you to avoid losing a good worker and identify a problem that could be causing your company’s turnover ratio to be higher than necessary. 

Even if work isn’t the cause of the problem, workplace stress could contribute to personal issues or exacerbate a problem at home. If there’s something the company can do to alleviate workplace stress that can help alleviate the workplace effects of the issue.

Do Offer Reasonable Assistance

In some cases, it’s clear what to do for an employee that is enduring personal trauma: give the employee a few personal days to sort it out, put in for leave time, or adjust a schedule. Avoid going overboard to accommodate an employee, however, just stick to what you can reasonably offer without seriously affecting the business.

Once HR is aware of the issue, you can create a plan for how to assist the employee. If the issue isn’t severe, the employee may only need a few days off. However, many personal crises may require a longer-term plan. It’s essential to communicate openly with the employee about the plan, however. The last thing someone enduring a crisis needs is to fear for their job security.

Do Communicate with the Rest of Your Team

If an employee needs time off or an adjusted schedule to deal with a personal issue, that doesn’t affect only that employee. Other members of your team will have to cover those shifts or pick up extra work. It’s important that you communicate clearly with everyone involved what the plan is. They’ll need to know how long their coworker may be gone or if a changed in schedules or duties is permanent.

It’s also important not to reveal details about the employee’s crisis. Those details may have been shared with the manager or with HR, but the rest of your staff don’t need to know. Communicating the plan clearly and in a professional manner, however, can help to dispel any rumors and can show that the company has everything under control.

Do Create a Company Support System

Having a support network in place to help an employee won’t benefit only the employee currently experiencing the crisis. Having a plan in place to support employee personal issues will benefit all employees. This support network can involve easy access to a therapist if your company’s health care plans cover it. It can also involve support for working remotely, an open-door policy so employees can talk to a manager if they need to, ways to report problems that are outside of the chain of command, and a company culture that encourages employees to take their earned PTO.

Do Check in with the Employee

Whether the employee takes time off to handle the crisis or not, it’s important to check in regularly. HR or the employee’s manager should either contact the employee or meet with them, depending on whether the employee is working remotely, taking time off, or coming in to work. If accommodations have been made regarding the personal issue, then these check-ins can help determine if that accommodation is still needed. These meetings can also show employees that your company cares about their wellbeing.

What If the Issue Doesn’t Get Better?

Not all personal issues are fixable, either in the short term or the long term. The employee’s situation may never improve, no matter what steps your company takes to ease the employee’s stress at work. Especially if the personal issue is one that has been ongoing for a long period of time, it’s a good idea to make a plan for the problem not getting any better.

Plan for the Worst

Even if you do your best to accommodate the employee going through a personal crisis, there always exists the possibility that he or she will quit. It’s important to plan ahead for that eventuality even if you feel like the situation has been handled well, as there may be layers that you don’t know about. Stay vigilant and be prepared to cover their shifts or entire position as needed.

Plan for the Best

Just as important as having a plan for the employee quitting is to have a plan for the employee’s return. If the employee has taken time off, you’ll need to have a plan to transition them back into the schedule. If any of their assigned tasks were taken over by coworkers, you’ll need to make a plan to transition those tasks back, either gradually or all at once.

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