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When home issues come to work

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Managers should know how to act when employees have problems outside work

It is not your job to be any employee’s therapist. You are not qualified and it’s not appropriate. The best practice in this situation is to be aware, be kind and be brief about it.

Reframe this complicated issue in clear and simple terms: “Is this person having trouble at work?”

No matter what the problem is outside work, what you need to do is make it completely clear to your employee that what’s going on at work is 100% the work. That’s not just hard-nosed boss talk - it can be a real kindness.

Acknowledge that something may be going on outside work. Ask if the employee would like to share the nature of the issue with you.

Stop and evaluate whether your knowledge of that personal issue obliges you to take action at work. Ask yourself if the issue poses a danger to anyone at work. Evaluate whether this person is going to need some time off, and/or whether there are employee assistance resources that might help them.

If the answer to these questions is no, the biggest favour you can do for this person, yourself and the rest of the team at work is refocus the discussion on the work: “Here are the performance standards. And here are the concrete expectations. Your time at work is measured entirely by meeting and exceeding those performance standards and concrete expectations. Exceed those standards and expectations and, no matter how bad you might be feeling outside work, you can feel great about your time here.”

Of course, if an employee simply cannot leave those personal issues outside work - if the employee cannot at least meet the standards and expectations at work - then they might need some time off or a leave of absence, or to be removed from the job entirely.

You should always make every effort to help employees with problems to avail themselves of any employee assistance resources. You could even volunteer to help personally somehow, outside work. You can and should be very kind. But you just can’t have that person at work if they are not able to perform.

● This article is adapted from from The 27 Challenges Managers Face (Wiley/Jossey-Bass, 2014)


Bruce Tulgan is an adviser to business leaders and a sought-after keynote speaker and seminar leader, and author. He is the founder and CEO of RainmakerThinking and RainmakerThinking.Training

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