From managing workloads to putting out fires to watching your employees shine — you’re frequently called on to navigate your employees in plenty of work-related situations. But sometimes, you may need to guide an employee through a personal crisis — especially if it begins to impact their work.
Whether it’s the loss of a loved one, a divorce, or a family member’s illness, one of your employees is bound to face a challenging time in their life. How you handle this situation is an important test of your leadership.
It’s critical to be sensitive as your employee takes care of their emotional needs, but it’s also important to keep workflow moving. Your clients aren’t going to stand by idly as your employee takes some extra time off.
Finding the right balance between support and work can be difficult, but it’s essential to avoid more — and often avoidable — complications.
Here are 4 ways to support your staff during a personal crisis — without sacrificing productivity.
1. Check In With Your Employee Regularly — But Respect Their Privacy
Whether you noticed your employee walk into the office without their normal pep in their step or they came directly to you with their personal crisis, checking in with them will go a long way in making them feel supported.
Once the loss, diagnosis, or other major life event passes, your employee may be left with emotional after-effects, such as feelings of sadness or depression. A simple check-in from time to time lets them know you care about them — and not just about their work output.
Regular check-ins have another less obvious benefit — they can help you keep an eye on how their crisis is affecting their work. You can ask them if they’re feeling overwhelmed and determine what level of assistance they might need to avoid frustrating work delays down the line.
These check-ins don’t have to be formal, scheduled meetings. You can drop by their desk periodically (when other employees aren’t around) or send them a brief email to let them know you’re available if they need anything.
That being said — keep in mind that you’re their boss, not their therapist. Don’t pry unnecessarily into their personal life and make them uncomfortable in the process.
2. Provide Accommodations When Necessary
Everyone’s human — and it’s important to remember that when one of your employees is facing a challenging time in their life. They’re probably trying to navigate the work-life balance like never before, and you may need to give them a little extra flexibility for the time being.
There are a number of ways to provide temporary flexibility for your employee, such as:
- Reducing their workload
- Allowing partial or full work from home options
- Providing alternate work hours
- Allowing periodic breaks throughout the day
Try to get creative with these accommodations. Consider your team’s workflow and what unique opportunities you may be able to provide.
Offer up some of these options when you think they’re necessary rather than waiting for your employee to approach you. They might not know that these accommodations are available — or they may be too nervous to ask.
If any other employees need to take on extra duties during this time, make sure to acknowledge and reward their contributions in order to avoid a disgruntled employee who feels underappreciated. A day off when things get back to normal — or even a simple “thank you” — can mean a lot.
Make sure you know what you can provide before actually offering any accommodations. Your company may have strict guidelines about time off and workloads, and it could make things worse if you provide flexibility, only to take it away.
3. Establish A Clear Timeline And Expectations
If you can allow your employees some flexibility as they manage their personal life, by all means, do. But remember that you’re running a business, and there’s a limit to how much flexibility you can provide to maintain productivity.
Consider the needs of your team and how much work others can absorb. Also, look at what projects can be moved around to accommodate your employee.
Once you have a good gauge on how much flexibility you can provide, communicate that to your employee. Let them know that you support them taking the time they need — but you also need them to fulfill their obligations to their job eventually.
Try to remember that they have a lot on their plate, and a discussion about deadlines right away might feel overwhelming. You may want to wait a day or two before having this discussion.
It may be a good idea to let the rest of your team know what this timeline looks like so they’ll know when to expect things to go back to normal. The waiting game is no fun — especially when you’re working overtime.
If you have a healthy relationship with your employees, it’s normal to want to provide extensive accommodations. This is particularly true when it comes to smaller companies and startups. However, you have just as much of a responsibility to your other employees to make sure no one gets burned out.
4. Connect Your Employee With Other Resources
You may pull out all the bells and whistles to make sure your employee feels supported and cared for, but sometimes, they may need more than you can — or should — provide.
If you have a human resources department, connect with them as soon as you learn about your employee’s situation. This is the type of situation they’re there for, and they can guide you through a potentially delicate situation. HR can even provide you with a script or talking points if you’re not sure how to have a particularly tough conversation.
There may also be outside resources that you can direct them to, as well, such as non-profits that give money to families battling cancer or programs that provide rides to doctor’s appointments. HR may keep a list on hand — or a simple search on Google may do the trick.
Be Supportive — And Be A Boss
When an employee is facing a tough time in their life, empathy is imperative. If you can provide them some extra support, that can go a long way toward building respect and understanding in your relationship and even your team.
At the same time, boundaries and guidelines are critical. It’s important not to let employees take advantage of your kindness or weigh down the rest of the team.
The line between support and productivity may be fine — but it’s certainly there if you look hard enough. Once you find it, you’ll encourage a healthy environment and build a work family that can be counted on.