Helping Employees Cope with Non-Work Issues

Lee Polevoi by Lee Polevoi on June 27, 2012
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Small-business owners are often reluctant to get involved in an employee’s private affairs — and rightly so — but when the circumstances start to affect job performance, you may need to take action.

Signs that an employee is in distress include a loss of morale, a tendency to commit errors, diminished confidence, added stress, and even physical or emotional pain, all of which can be difficult to conceal on the job.

So, as the boss, what should you do when you notice an employee’s behavior change?

First, you and your staffer need to acknowledge the situation. Make sure that your company’s culture encourages employees to step forward (without fearing negative consequences) when they need assistance. Employers who demonstrate concern for the well-being of their workforce support employees’ sense of responsibility and commitment to improving the situation.

Next, take these vital steps:

  • Listen, but don’t try to fix the problem. In many cases, simply lending a sympathetic ear — and offering a few kind words — can improve the situation. If you’ve gone through a similar experience, feel free to describe how you handled it. However, remember that it’s up to the employee to solve the problem. Avoid any impulse to step in and take charge.
  • Make short-term changes. Sometimes an employee just needs a bit of a break to take care of personal issues. If possible, offer to adjust the work schedule or shift job responsibilities on a short-term basis. Be sure that the employee understands this is a temporary accommodation.
  • Implement flex time. Consider allowing your entire staff to work flexible hours, as long as it doesn’t interfere with your business operations. Flex time enables many employees to get their jobs done and manage their personal lives (doctor appointments, child care, etc.).
  • Offer resources to all employees. Preventing problems before they arise — or become too difficult to handle — is often the best strategy. Consider putting together a “resource library” in the office, where employees can borrow books and videos about managing stress and achieving work-life balance. Bring in a motivational speaker from time to time to address issues that may affect employee productivity.
  • Start an Employee Assistance Program. If you budget allows, provide an Employee Assistance Program. This confidential support service is specifically designed to help employees sort out personal issues while remaining productive at work. EAP providers such as Cigna and Ceridian offer mental-health and substance-abuse counseling, as well as assistance with family, legal, or financial issues. Your EAP should be accompanied by a clear policy that underscores its confidentiality and explains which services are provided and how employees can access them.
Lee Polevoi

Lee Polevoi is an award-winning business writer specializing in the challenges and opportunities facing small business. He is former Senior Writer at Vistage International, a global membership organization of CEOs.

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