Whether it’s grief, heartache, depression, financial struggles, or family strife, an employee’s personal hardship presents special challenges when you’re a manager.
Conflicting concerns run through your mind: showing kindness helps workplace morale, but giving leeway might set a bad precedent. One employee’s reduced productivity can hurt morale for other employees. But the whole team may feel discouraged by a cold response from management.
There are no right answers here, but a little support can go a long way to build rapport and minimize the impact of personal hardships in the workplace.
You might feel upset to hear about your employee’s personal hardship. It might trigger worries about how you’ll handle their reduced productivity. But the reality is, if they didn’t share what was happening, you’d have no way to offer support.
Without support, their performance would surely drop. Now, you have a chance to change that (or at the very least, prepare for it).
Thank them for taking the plunge and confiding in you. Also consider expressing your wish to work together and find compromise solutions where possible.
Consider what information you need in order to keep the workplace functioning. How long will this situation impact your employee’s work? What kind of interim measures have to be taken? Do they have the support they need?
Feel free to ask questions in order to get that information; but beyond that, avoid prying. For one, prying could put you into legal hot water. But moreover, your employee will likely appreciate the privacy.
If you can personally relate to an employee’s struggle (and feel comfortable), saying so can build rapport and help reduce productivity-sucking shame or guilt for your employee.
You don’t have to share personal information or match the level of detail your employee shared. A simple “believe it or not, I see a bit of myself in what you’re going through” can go a long way.
You want to show compassion and be sympathetic, of course. But if your employee’s hardship has caused a dip in productivity, it’s tempting to draw a line in the sand or make an example of their slip-up.
Balance is the goal. Consider whether there is room for leeway, given what they’re going through. If you can’t offer flexibility to minimize the impact of your employee’s situation, at least let them know that you don’t blame them for the negative impact on their work. If necessary, you can reiterate that, as a manager, work function has to be your top priority–but you feel for the other person’s situation. Showing compassion doesn’t have to mean being a pushover.
Ideally, your employee can continue to work (maybe in a modified capacity). Best case scenario, they return to their previous productivity levels once this hardship has resolved.
But just like working through a vacation can tank workers’ productivity when they return, working through personal hardship can lead to burnout.
Encourage your employee to use some of their PTO if available. Even a day or two can allow a person to regroup, take care of personal needs, and work through tough emotions. If not, perhaps they can trade shifts with someone else to get a break in the moment when they most need it.
It may be appropriate to remind your employee to use resources available to them. This could look like mental health counseling or peer support, childcare services, physical healthcare, or group exercise classes. If your place of work does not offer helpful benefits, consider suggesting some free or low-cost resources available to the public.
In the end, if your effort is clear, your employee will appreciate your support. In turn, they will be more likely to keep work in mind, despite whatever distractions are on their plate.