Sometimes when you start scratching beneath the surface to get to the bottom of a performance issues you are faced with a bucket load of emotions and revelations about your employee’s personal life you were not prepared for or expecting. Life happens and no matter how much we try to avoid it at times personal life carries over into work life no matter how much we try to avoid it. Some examples of personal issues which may flow into workplace behaviour and performance include relationship breakdown, family violence, problems with substance abuse.
Managing the trickiest and most delicate situations that arise are one of the toughest task managers will face in their day to day. Adding to it a performance or conduct issue that needs addressing makes the situation even more difficult to deal with. When a long-term employee suddenly has a reduction in the quality of their work or continues to miss deadlines it is reasonable to want to address the shortfalls.
Your employee has told you during a meeting that their poor performance is a result of issues going on at home? Now what?
There is no textbook answer to how to deal with a personal issue an employee brings to you as personal issue can range so widely. If you have chosen to go down a formal performance management path and have requested that your employee responds to allegations you must note their response so that you can consider the response after your meeting and provide an outcome of the meeting to your employee.
Sitting down for a performance discussion and being surprised with a response is not an uncommon occurrence. It is important to remember that the reason you are having the meeting is based on factual performance shortfalls. Your purpose is to seek employee’s response. What can you do to control the direction the meeting is heading in;
- pause for a break
- reschedule the meeting
- divert attention back to the allegations
Whenever embarking on a performance management matter ensure you are aware of any relevant processes outlined in your Company’s Policies.
What can you do to support your employee?
It is most likely very uncomfortable for the employee to share their problems so listening and treating your employee with empathy is important. They may be overwhelmed or embarrassed that their personal problem is causing them to perform poorly or to miss deadlines. Confidentiality is another important consideration. No one likes their personal matters discussed openly. Only those who absolutely must know should know about information that is shared in a private meeting. Typically, these matters are dealt with between the Manager, employee and a representative of Human Resources.
An employee assistance program is a great service to be able to provide to employees. It provides an anonymous outlet and assistance for employees to access. When an employee tells you about their personal crisis you should listen and simply just be there
Having great working relationships with your employees in the first place helps if, and when issues arise. If you are a leader who leads with empathy you are most of the way there and will likely have a much better sense of your team’s engagement. Having a good relationship with your team members will encourage your team to speak to you more openly. Open communication in turn will help you identify issues early on. The earlier issues are addressed the better it is for the team culture and overall work performance.
Just listen to your employee, don’t ask too many questions. Your employee may not need to tell you their personal issues however they do need to provide a response to the performance concerns. It is also wise to be careful not to become an employee confidant. Blurring these professional lines will quickly turn your role from a Manager to your employee’s personal counsellor.
Ask you employee, how can we support you? That one simple question is very powerful. At times the response from your employee will be that there is nothing the Company or management can do to support the employee. In this case perhaps your employee may have just needed a sounding board and to simply explain why their performance has slipped. Don’t assume your employee is looking for any support. You also don’t need to have all the answers for them and of course you wouldn’t have all the answer, maybe you don’t have any answers at that precise time and that’s ok too.
What happens next?
Ensure you check in with your employee regularly. If you have agreed on a course of action to support your employee such as annual leave, make sure that the employee is able to take the time off without having additional pressures arise from the time off work. Last thing your employee needs is added work pressures when they are dealing with serious personal issues. Sometimes a decent amount of time off work will help your employee to overcome a personal issue.
Some ideas for support;
- Regular check ins
- Employee Assistance Program
- Time of work on annual leave
- Flexible working hours
- Temporary reduction in workload to allow employee to recover
Fairness in the way you deal with performance shortfall across the entire company needs to be maintained when dealing with performance issues. Not all support mechanics suit all employees and job roles but be careful not to support only certain employees in the same situation. Unfair treatment of team members will destroy your team culture and potentially land the company in risk of industrial dispute if leaders are seen to favour one person over another.
When is the time to take a tougher stance?
Hopefully with the right support and some time, your employees return to their usual performance levels. At some point poor behaviours or performance may start turning into something detrimental to the wellbeing of your business or your company morale. You will need to act in order to maintain your operations at optimal performance.
If an amount of time has lapsed after your initial conversation with your employee and you still have concerns about your employee’s performance, you may need to revisit performance issues again in a formal manner. You should do this in line with your Company Policies, ensuring you treat your employee fairly and following principles of procedural fairness.
Walking a line between being too cold or too caring and forgiving can be difficult. Sometimes a third-party perspective is worth considering. If you are having a tough time having a conversation with your employee, sometimes an outsourced HR professional is just what you need to help get you and your employee to a better place.