What to Do When an Employee is Having Personal Problems 

Are you sitting comfortably? Welcome to my series of podcasts that will help you to navigate those inevitable difficult events at work that are part of being a small business owner.  Today I want to talk about what to do when an employee is having personal problems. 

Dealing with an employee who is having personal problems will be among the toughest challenges you’ll face as a small business owner. Larger organisations might have access to employee support officers or counselling services, which small businesses don’t have the luxury of, and often if just one employee is having personal problems that they bring into work, it can impact the business. 

When an employee is going through a crisis, you might think it’s enough to be sympathetic and say ‘I’m there for you,’ and of course that’s important, but dealing with the situation effectively is about more than that. If it’s not handled properly, the employee’s personal problem can fast become a professional one. 

This is why it’s important to have a conversation with your employee early on, to establish what the problem is and to find out whether there’s anything you can do to help. This may help you avoid worse problems down the line. 

The other important thing to remember is that it is possible to help them get through a difficult time and maintain a professional relationship, all while keeping your business running like a tight ship. Here’s how:

Firstly, make sure that work isn’t adding to the problem. Have you been making excessive demands on them at work which has only been making them feel more stressed when they’ve been going through a difficult time personally? Think about what you can do to make their life easier for a while. 

Next, remember you aren’t a therapist, even though you might encourage an employee to ‘call you anytime.’ Blurring the lines between manager and friend can make things difficult in the future; for example, how are you supposed to address poor performance with an employee who has poured their heart out to you about things that may have been very personal? Don’t put yourself in that position. Help your employee address their issues by all means, but see what practical help you can offer and where you can signpost them for help rather than just being a shoulder to cry on. 

By practical help, I mean giving employees time off when they need it ( although I appreciate that this is not so easy in a small business). Other options might include allowing them to leave early or teaming them up with another employee who can take over some of their work when they are off.

Remember to give the rest of your team a heads up that the employee will be having time off or that they’ll be leaving early, as they are dealing with something; you don’t have to go into specifics. Failing to communicate this to other members of the team could cause resentment. Let them know that you appreciate them picking up the slack. 

Finally, don’t underestimate the power of simply checking in with an employee who is having problems. This will really make an employee feel valued and supported, and they’ll be much more likely to reward you with loyalty and great work. Even if there’s nothing you can do about their situation, knowing that you’re concerned about them will make them feel like they matter to you. 

If they are at work, have a chat or send an email now and again to ask how things are, or if you’ve given them time off, give them a call to let them know you’re thinking of them. This is about compassion, and even if making a profit is your main motivator, you can still run a business where people care about each other. 

While you might think it’s a good idea to keep everyone’s personal and professional lives separate, life isn’t like that and it can’t always be the case. However, it is possible to show compassion to those who work with you and for you while maintaining appropriate professional boundaries. 

I hope that you got some good tips from today’s podcast, and I’ll see you next time for the next one in the series.

This is The People Mentor signing off.

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