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    Everyone experiences personal crises throughout their lives. From messy divorces to parental deaths, life’s trials and tribulations can often affect focus and work performance. As such, managers and HR professionals must remain sensitive to how personal problems play a role in employees’ productivity. Knowing how and when to support employees through personal crises will ensure your relationships with staff members remain strong while boosting resilience within the workforce. In this brief guide, we offer some handy tips for managing employees experiencing a personal crisis.

    1. Remember to Maintain Professional Boundaries

    When someone approaches you to talk about their issues, it can be difficult not to get emotionally invested in their life. You may feel tempted to cross professional boundaries to comfort the employee, especially if you’ve been through similar problems yourself. However, you should avoid getting too close to your employee and their issue in this way as it could generate serious problems in the future. For example, you may find it tricky to have frank discussions about an employee’s work and position in the company once you’ve crossed that personal line.

    As a manager or HR professional, your job is to help your team members address their problems as it relates to their work and do so without getting directly involved. While you should feel free to express your sympathy and condolences, your main priority should be to give employees the practical support they require to get back on track such as a flexible schedule, updated deadlines, or reminders about resources such as the Employee Assistance Program (EAP).

    2. Listen to Your Employee About Their Needs

    People react to crises in different ways and require different levels of support. For example, while some people may wish to have a few weeks of leave following the death of a loved one, others in a similar situation may prefer to temporarily work from home. Rather than immediately suggesting a worker takes a leave of absence, ask them what kind of support they would prefer. Reassure them that you’d like to work together to ensure their recovery is smooth and satisfactory. It may also be helpful to remind your team members about resources readily available to them should they need them. If your organization has policies regarding remote work, bereavement leave, counseling services through the EAP, or other relevant resources, reminders of their access to them might be helpful without having to offer direct solutions.

    3. Don’t Over-Promise

    Unless you’re the primary decision-maker at your company, it’s unwise to make any concrete promises about flexible working arrangements or support services when an employee approaches you with their problems. If you’re an empathetic person, your instinct may be to offer as many adjustments or support services as possible. However, higher managers may not appreciate such generosity. When first approached by an employee in distress, listen to what adjustments they feel are necessary and let them know that you will work with management to advocate for the best possible outcome.

    4. Remember to Follow Up Appropriately with Your Employee

    Emailing or honing your employee throughout their recovery period could make them nervous or weary, particularly if the issue they are dealing with is stressful or emotionally charged. It’s better to discuss deadlines with your team member when they first mention the need for support. This will allow you to check in with them when you’re confident that they are prepared to do so. This will demonstrate that you care about their mental health and ensure they feel like a valued member of your company. It will also allow them to offer feedback about their progress and indicate whether further adjustments are necessary.

    5. Offer Consistent Support Across Your Workforce

    You’re likely to encounter a range of personal crises within your workforce throughout your time as a manager or HR professional. As such, it’s worth remembering that other employees will observe how you treat struggling colleagues and are likely to expect similar levels of support if they experience difficulties in the future. Moreover, offering consistent support will have a positive effect on employee morale and retention, and together this will help establish your organization as a quality place to work. A good reputation in your industry for how you treat employees is essential to recruitment and retention. While every situation is unique, you should only agree to adjustments and supportive measures that you’d be happy applying again in the future. If you appear to treat certain employees favorably, resentment may start to build.

    6. If Appropriate, Let Team Members Know When a Colleague Is Struggling

    While it’s important to maintain a culture of confidentiality regarding employees’ personal problems, you must tactfully let your workforce know when they’ll need to pick up extra responsibilities due to a team member’s issues. It’s important that don’t go into the details of the problem unless the employee explicitly asks you to inform others. Rather, you should meet with team members individually to let them know that the employee in question will be taking a little time off due to personal issues. In most cases, particularly if you foster a culture of flexibility and understanding, the workforce will be compassionate and willing to help cover their colleague’s duties.

    7. Make Contingency Plans

    It can be difficult to predict how an employee will cope with their personal crisis. While many will return to standard operations after a few weeks of recovery, others may be tempted to quit. In this case, you may find yourself scrambling to hire a replacement. In some cases, you may suspect that the colleague is lying or exaggerating their issues to get time off. While this is rare, you should have protocols in place to discuss their behavior and, if necessary, terminate their contract if they’re shown to have lied about their situation. A more likely scenario that calls for contingency planning is that the personal issues take longer to resolve than you or your team member anticipated. For these reasons, it’s important to discuss timelines and follow-ups. In these cases, you may want to work with the employee to determine the next steps, including hybrid work or half-days. You may also consider hiring a temporary worker or setting a hard deadline for returning to work.

    The Bottom Line: Be Flexible and Maintain a Professional Outlook at All Times

    Personal crises represent some of the most difficult situations for HR professionals and managers to handle. However, by acting professionally and putting clear policies in place about how to support struggling workers, you can ensure that your company remains both compassionate and productive. The best policies are the ones that allow for flexibility and put your people first.


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