Donna's blog on coaching, leadership, and life

When life interrupts work.

I’m reminded regularly that people’s personal lives—celebrations, family illness or deaths, child and/or elder care—may significantly challenge their otherwise consistent ability to be focused and productive at work.

As managers, we have a responsibility to maintain employee performance towards individual, departmental and organizational goals. And it’s tough when we genuinely empathize with an individual’s struggle to balance their work responsibilities while dealing with difficult personal situations.

If you—When you—find yourselves challenged by an employee’s struggle to manage personal demands or experiences, here are a few approaches that may help you navigate between your genuine empathy and your managerial requirements.

– Meet with your employee and extend your understanding and empathy about this being a difficult time for them.
– Let them know that although you wish you had the freedom to give them all the time they need to address their personal issues—as a manager, you don’t have that luxury—as both of you continue to be responsible and accountable to reach business goals. However, you’d like to help make that as manageable as possible.
– Offer to help the individual re-prioritize immediate and manageable demands, and establish small-step action plans that will help them reach their short-term goals successfully.
– Ask how else you might feasibly support the individual at work, while they’re experiencing this personal challenge or distraction.
– If possible—and now that they are accountable for short-term goals that are clearly defined—allow some level of flexibility in the workday.
– Set a target date to discuss interim progress and the status of working projects and demands—and their ability to resume a heavier workload.
– If the employee continues to struggle significantly and goals consistently are not being met, solicit advice from an HR professional to learn about appropriate or required strategies that will prepare you to best address the individual and the situation.

Although this post addresses how you might support an employee who is experiencing a personal challenge, you may also find yourself in the role of the challenged employee. If so, you may want to consider requesting this level of support from your manager, for a fixed time, to help you best balance your work and personal demands.

Collaboration goes a long way when life’s challenges interrupt productivity at work.


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