When Things Aren’t “Okay”
What to Do When an Employee Has Personal Issues
In my recent post, 5 Important Reasons Leaders Need to Be Likable, I discussed how important it is to get somewhat personal, and share common parts of our lives with our employees. I always suggest that you start your 1-on-1s by asking how your employees are doing. Oftentimes the response is “okay” or “I’m great,” but what if it isn’t? Sometimes work requires us to talk about more than just work and hobbies – because our lives are more than work and hobbies. Sometimes life is sickness, loss, and disappointment. Sometimes your employee has been involved in an accident, has a sick family member, or faces financial troubles. And sometimes things just aren’t “okay.”
Leading is easy when it’s easy, but it’s a lot harder when life gets rough. So, what do you do when your employee is struggling? You can’t always solve their problems (and most of the time you can’t), but you can always be empathetic. Hear your employee out and do your best to connect with them. Ask how you can help, be supportive, and give them time off if needed. The pandemic has shown us just how hard things can get. You and the people you work with have likely lost a sense of stability, time you can’t get back, and even people you love. As leaders, we need to acknowledge that we’re human and shouldn’t keep on grinding through tragedy for work’s sake.
Encourage your employees to take time off to heal, and to take personal days when needed. They may also need to hear again that they won’t lose their job if they take paid time off. When people are going through hard times, they won’t be in the best mood or the most productive, so it’s best to let them take the time they need. In addition to offering time off, you can also talk to your HR department. Sometimes they can help financially by making a donation in the company’s name, or offer mental health benefits. If warranted, you can also review their pay if money is an issue. There’s a lot you can do to help, but know your limits. You’re not a therapist, so use healthy boundaries and direct them to the resources that exist.
Follow up with your employees after a leave to make sure they’re doing better. After a difficult conversation, ask how they’re doing before diving back into work mode. Has their injury healed? Is their family member feeling better? Did their raise bring them some relief? For serious matters like this, have the conversation face-to face if possible (I like to check in on morning walk arounds), but if you’re unable to meet in person, Skype is a good alternative, or even a messenger chat. I avoid email for this because many people feel uncomfortable having their personal details written in a form that’s monitored by the company.
The best leaders have a high EQ. The worst leaders are only concerned about when you’re coming back or how much money they’re losing while you’re gone. You’ll get a lot further with kindness, as it shows you care and brings a personal touch to your leadership. People who feel cared about are happier and more productive. They also care more about what they do, which helps everyone in the long run.