Supporting an Employee Experiencing a Personal Crisis

Maintaining complete separation between work and personal lives is not always possible when faced with a particularly significant life event. Learn more about the ways managers can better support an employee who is experiencing a personal crisis, while still maintaining professionalism and discretion.

Foster Compassion

Your employees won’t tell you when a personal crisis arises if you haven’t already proven yourself to be compassionate and trustworthy. And even then, it can be embarrassing to admit that they are struggling or possibly burned out. Build strong relationships with your team members starting on Day One. If a normally reliable employee starts missing deadlines or frequently calling in sick, approach them in a gentle manner that assumes the best of intentions.

Don’t Play Therapist

There’s a fine line between showing empathy and becoming overinvolved. Your goal is to provide professional support that helps the employee do their job during the personal crisis, not to become their counselor or confidante. Focus on the workplace, and allow the employee to share as much or as little as they choose.

Listen, Then Suggest

If you’re a fix-it type, you may want to immediately launch into suggestions such as taking time off or handing over projects to someone else. But first you need to understand what your employee is looking for. They might just want to explain the situation to you in anticipation of possible future needs. Or they may have a specific request such as a flexible work schedule. Listen carefully before you start rattling off your own thoughts.

Know the Options

Unless you own the company, you may be limited in the solutions you can provide. Learn your company policies on things like paid time off or remote work. Always check with HR before making any firm commitments to a new temporary or long-term arrangement. It’s always appropriate to discuss proposed solutions with your employee and then say something like, “Let me run this up the chain for approval.” Your team member will appreciate your transparency.

Check-in Now and Then

You don’t want your worker to feel like you’re hovering, but checking in occasionally is the compassionate thing to do. Simply send a quick email or drop by the person’s workstation and ask how they’re getting along. Always leave the door open for them to come to you for adjustments as the situation evolves.

Every personal crisis, like every employee, is unique. There is no one-size-fits-all approach to handling them. But if you lead with compassion, listen to the person’s needs, and work to develop solutions that fall within company guidelines, you will be well-equipped to handle whatever life throws your (and your employees’) way.

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