Frontline Supervisor: Dealing With Employees’ Personal Problems

Frontline Supervisor: Dealing With Employees’ Personal Problems

On 10 Dec 2014, in Management, coaching, employee development, Workplace

Q. When employees with performance issues mention their personal problems, I feel obligated to participate in these discussions. It may sound cold, but I want to rid myself of this feeling and, like other supervisors, focus only on work issues.

A. Thinking that you are a cold person for not discussing personal problems with your employees is a clue to the importance of overcoming this challenge. Staying focused on what is relevant to work and avoiding personal issues can be difficult if you are accustomed to others relying on you to support them and solve their problems. It can be even more challenging if you feel satisfied or rewarded for it. Is your awareness about getting too involved a recent development? Have you recognized this struggle in the past, perhaps with other relationships outside of work? BJC EAP is a good starting point to help you identify the pattern and work toward ridding yourself of this struggle. Your experience is not uncommon. If important relationships in your past, especially in the home, were associated with guilt for not being a “fixer,” or if you had responsibility for solving others’ personal problems or preventing them, you could feel obligated now to get involved with employees’ problems. BJC EAP can help.

Q. How does BJC EAP help supervisors not get involved in the emotional aspects of the personal problems that their employees often face?

A. When employees share their personal problems with their supervisors, it can be tempting for supervisors to involve themselves in the discovery of resolutions. Many supervisors in companies without EAPs entangle themselves in the personal problems of employees, and if problems are difficult and chronic, this can become a burdensome task. But it doesn’t end there. It takes an emotional toll. Concerned supervisors with strong emotional ties to their employees may empathize too deeply, adding to their own stress. This can increase enabling behaviors even as performance deteriorates. BJC EAP can relieve supervisors of this burden. Supervisors are then free to detach so that they can manage performance while allowing professionals to do the helping.

Q. When employees mention personal problems, for instance problems with a teenager, why is it not appropriate to give the employee a helpful book or instructional pamphlet on the subject, especially if the pamphlet is written by an authority?

A. EAP consultants will tell you from experience that there is always more to the employee’s story than the supervisor knows. For example, you may learn about the problems with a teenager, but be completely unaware of its root cause. Your employee may also be unaware of the cause. Difficulties with a teenager could be caused by dozens of possible problems in a family, the symptoms of which are troubles with a teenager. If you provide information about parenting a teenager to your employee, it could add to the delay in getting proper help.

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