When things aren’t right at your employee’s home, it can spill over into work and affect performance and your bottom line. Helping your employee sort out some of the issues can help improve things for your company, but there’s a line you shouldn’t cross when it comes to dealing with an employee’s problems outside of work. Knowing what you can do – and what you shouldn’t do – is essential when it’s time to tackle performance issues with a valued employee.
Personal Problems and Job Performance
Problems at home can take a surprising toll on job performance. When more than 68 percent of workers report experiencing problems bad enough that they aren’t unable to cope with normal daily duties, it’s not surprising that you’ll come up against problems from time to time. Anything from substance abuse problems to divorce to financial issues can weigh on an employee’s mind so heavily that they’re unable to cope and perform at an acceptable level.
A setback doesn’t mean that an employee isn’t valuable or high-quality. The costs to hire a new employee can be thousands of dollars, so if you already have someone whose performance you’re generally happy with, it’s better to keep them around. Making your concerns known in a professional way, maintaining appropriate boundaries and following up with the employee later can all help you retain them and improve their performance.
When personal problems become personnel problems, it’s time to get involved to keep things at work on an even keel. To get involved, first find out whether there’s something that’s happening at work that’s causing the problem. An influx of extra assignments, a difficult task, or problems with coworkers could be the cause of the problem or a cause of additional stress. If a problem in the office can be alleviated, that’s a good place to start.
If the problem is purely outside the office, ask whether there’s anything the business can do in terms of their work duties to help resolve the problem. For example, a day off to deal with legal matters or a partner on a time-consuming project on a temporary basis could be the difference between a high-performing employee and one who can’t handle the weight of their tasks. Try a temporary reduction in the amount of work the person has if they’re having difficulty meeting deadlines or are making mistakes.
One of the most important things to keep in mind is that employee/employer boundaries must be maintained when you approach the person with the problem. Always keep the conversation focused on the person’s performance at work. Don’t give your opinion on the personal problems the employee is experiencing. They may not want to share the details of their personal life with you – and that’s for the best. Frame the entire conversation as concern about their work performance and what you can do to get them back on track.
You aren’t a doctor and shouldn’t be a counselor, even for trusted, long-term employees. Keep in mind that if your employee is experiencing a personal trauma, it’s possible that they will already be on edge emotionally. As Hossein Berenji, a Los Angeles based divorce lawyer says, “Emotions run high during a separation.” Maintaining appropriate boundaries will help keep those emotions in check during your interactions with your employee.
If your company has resources available that can help sort out some of the problems the employee is facing, give the person literature that shows them what’s available. Talk to your insurer if you aren’t sure what’s covered. Insurance plans are often convoluted and your employee may not have the energy or mental fortitude to call and deal with a representative. Finding out what’s available for them and giving it to them on a reference sheet can assist them as they get started finding help.
Some companies also offer family counseling and financial tutoring programs. There are a variety of employee assistance programs available, if you’re interested in contracting one to work with your company. Since problems in life are inevitable, it might be worth the investment.
Keeping a positive attitude and effusing praise into the interaction with your employee will go a long way toward making sure it’s a positive discussion. As Dale Carnegie said in “How to Win Friends and Influence People,” it’s important to “begin with praise and honest appreciation.” Your employee likely knows they aren’t doing their best work. Leading with criticism could make him feel harassed or stressed and prompt a negative response.
Instead, let them know that you value them. Talk about things they’ve done well. Then note that there have been some problems and you want to know how you can help them go back to being a high-performer. Showing confidence in and appreciation for your employee will help turn what could be an awkward meeting into a more positive and helpful one.
Ultimately, extending a helping hand to your employees is also helping your own company. When people are happy and supported, they’re going to be more focused and able to do better work. Don’t overstep the bounds of your position, but do make resources known to your employee and consider supporting them by adjusting their responsibilities at work until things are calmer in their life.