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How to Manage Employee Personal Problems in the Workplace

Mar 24, 2008
We humans are complex beasts. We live, love, hate, befriend, stress, grieve, excite, depress, yearn and everything in between. To make matters worse, we are a potpourri; a hodgepodge buffet of everything so that the best and worst can even occur within the same psyche.

We are in both an incredibly fantastic web of neurons and a real mess.

Will Rogers said he never met a man he didn't like. He could have easily said the reverse. Paradox, ambiguity, confusion, uncertainty and foolish pride just stir the pot.

We try our best to generalize, stereotype, and simplify but we human beasts defy attempts to 'get figured out'. The same system that allows us to create and accomplish extraordinary feats also allows us to fail and anguish in misery and yet still call it a learning experience or positive cognitive exercise.

Additionally we bring our mixed bag of social evolution and personal circumstance to the workplace. When we walk into the office or punch in we are still the same person even though we may flip the 'work switch' or 'put on the office face.'

When pain and stress enters our personal lives it can spill over into the workplace. The result can be a sour attitude, reduced productivity, lack of cooperation, lack of focus, etc.

Under ideal circumstances we should come to work, be happy we are employed, focus on our tasks and responsibilities and make the business agenda our agenda. At least during work hours.

The demands of the workplace and the demands on our personal lives are putting greater pressures on us and forcing us to look at how we cope and try to maintain a balance.

And throughout it all the frazzled manager has to manage and 'keep the ship afloat.' So you might question are there not some employee tricks and strategies the good manager uses that the bad manager does not?

Good managers know personal problems can make a productive worker useless. The astute manager does not take serious personal problems lightly.

They also know many employees have potential that will never be realized because of personal problems. Some people choose self destructive lifestyles that create a steady stream of problems.

Some even will find relief, meaning and comfort in going to work. These employees bring little value to the company and the best approach is to avoid hiring such character types and consider firing the ones you do have. It's just not fair to your good people.

The good managers know that when an employee has a major personal problem it may be impossible for them to focus on work. They consider giving the employee time off to handle the problem.

Lovers and teenagers are frequently found in this category; being a successful manager is not so much a question of being a sensitive manager as learning how to be a productive one.

Good managers know their people. If an employee is showing a big shift in affect or behavior, the manager takes them aside and discreetly asks if there is a problem. Slight shifts in behavior are normal and we all have them. But major behavioral shifts are not normal and can signify a more fundamental problem.

Good managers show genuine interest, avoid gossip and respect confidentiality. And they avoid playing the hero. Most employees can work out their own personal problems on their own. That is not to say an expression of concern by the manager is not appreciated...

And make it clear that at work business comes first. Without the means to support a family things go sour quickly. As members of a team each employee has to carry their own load...

Good managers also understand that an employee's personal problems are not the manager's personal concern. The concern happens when these problems affect the workplace.

Good managers give the employee time to work through their problems but set a time limit. Some personal problems can never be resolved and the manager should then consider the employee's appropriateness for the position. The company cannot be expected to wait forever.

Consequently good managers support their employee's efforts to solve or resolve their own problems. If their company does not offer employee counseling benefits the good manager at least considers allowing the employee time off.

And finally, the good manager takes care of herself. As a manager, who is going to hold your hand when you need help?
About the Author
Jack Deal is the owner of JD Deal Business Consulting, Santa Cruz, CA. Related articles may be found at http://www.jddeal.com/blog/management and http://www.freeandinquiringmind.typepad.com
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