As much as we hate to admit it, we’ve all had situations that have crept past our personal lives and into our professional world. Whatever the issue may be, we’ve had days where it’s been extremely difficult to focus, or we’re distracted by trying to address the issue via phone calls and emails. We’re not talking about a bad leak in the kitchen that needs a repairman right away – this is more along the lines of major emotional issues, such as an unstable home environment, or trouble with a teenager, or even health issues that have come up and made accomplishing our tasks very difficult.
This happens to everyone, and some people are able to compartmentalise, knowing that the issue will have to wait until it’s outside of work hours. However, some people just cannot – the matter eats away at them, throughout the day, and greatly impacts their productivity.
When this happens, is it ever ok for managers to get involved? If so, how should they handle the matter?
First off, on whether or not managers should get involved, that is a very tricky matter. Even if the manager would consider themselves friends with their employees (which can cause other issues), there are certain things they should be careful about saying.
A manager getting involved and offering advice in personal matters can put pressure on the employee to feel like they have to ‘answer to’ them based on role dynamics, and that their advice “should” be used because it comes from their boss. It could also strain relations between the employee and the manager, because it may not be well received.
The employee may feel embarrassed, or like it’s crossing certain boundaries to disclose what could be very personal, life changing information.
So what can a manager say?
Well, keep it generic and very broad. If you notice performance dropping, you can, and should, bring that up. In that conversation you can open the floor to them to allow them to feel empowered with what they choose to say that doesn’t directly answer a question. Instead of saying “What’s going on?”, a manager can simply say, “I’ve noticed your performance dropping and wanted to give you a chance to speak on that matter, but only if you would like to”. That way, professional boundaries can stay intact unless they choose to divulge more information.
Remember, it could be a legal matter, so never push for them to disclose any of the details. Even if you’ve known this person for years, and feel like you want to be their emotional support, remember your role comes first, and you want to make sure you’re covered from any liability.
But, what about People Operations? Can People Ops broach the subject if it comes up from a manager, or another employee? The answer is somewhat the same – yes, but it depends. People Operations may have to take more of a “business-like” stance in the matter, especially regarding the performance issues and code of conduct at work.
Technically, there is a binding contract in place, however, your company also doesn’t need to be known as one that doesn’t consider the whole human employee. One suggestion may be that the employee take time off to handle the issue, so they can give it the full attention it needs for a few days or weeks, and come back ready to focus.
For some issues, this may be the perfect solution, especially if the employee needs to look for housing due to divorce, or enroll their child into counseling services. However, this won’t always be the most efficient solution, and it’s best to not push it on the employee if they think it will not help. After all, if they’re dealing with an abusive situation at home, putting them there for days on end may worsen the situation drastically.
If things have escalated to the point where the employee is taking drastic measures, such as completely blowing off work, or not showing up, it may be worth establishing a Performance Improvement Plan (PIP), especially if the problems have continued for an extended period of time.
You can still offer solutions, and any assistance the company can legally provide, however, you don’t want this dragging on for months on end based on a late execution of the paperwork and the follow up time that is required.
Work with the manager closely to get their take on the situation, but try to not make any knee jerk reactions regarding the matter. However, if you feel the issues may result in harm to others in the office, absolutely take quick and prudent actions to make sure everyone stays safe.
Unfortunately, personal issues manifest themselves in terrible ways in the work environment, but others should not pay the price from a workplace threat or violence.
At the end of the day, remember that as much as you care about this person, you cannot make the issues your own.
Usually, some support and maybe a change in structure for a temporary time can help in the matter, and that’s great on you for being able to provide those necessary adjustments. You can still make a difference!
© Human Resources Global