Frontline Supervisor: Dealing With Employees' Personal Problems

Frontline Supervisor: Dealing With Employees' Personal Problems

On 10 Jul 2017, in Frontline Supervisor, Management, Workplace

Each month, "The Balance Sheet" provides questions and answers from experts on a topic that's important to you as a manager. Please feel free to share this information with other colleagues who also manage people. 

Q. My employee discusses many personal problems at work. One day it’s health issues, the next day it’s problems with her sister-in-law. It’s bothersome to coworkers, and I fear it could influence some to leave the company. Should I refer her to BJC EAP? Is this a performance matter?

A. Meet with your employee in private and express your concern about so many different things affecting her life. Give her a chance to respond. She may instantly realize that she is too talkative about personal issues. (This may prompt change. Sometimes problems like this are resolved in mere seconds.) If not, share your observations about the frequency and effect of her multiple problems and suggest BJC EAP as a resource. If no changes are forthcoming and self-referral to BJC EAP is declined, encourage her more strongly to participate. If needed, express your concerns more directly about the work environment. Use documentation based on your observations of her interactions. The goal is to help her make changes and get help if issues in her life are serious enough to need counseling support. Don’t rule out a supervisor referral in the future.

Q. How can supervisors play a role in helping employees not bring their problems to work, and separating their home life from their work life so productivity is not affected?

A. Employees should be appropriately confronted when personal problems interfere with their productivity, attendance, quality of work, availability and attitude. No supervisor will be able to prevent an employee from bringing his or her personal problems to work, but supervisors can encourage employees to seek help earlier before interference occurs. Promoting EAP services to supervisors is important, because EAPs help managers feel empowered to address employee issues. Avoiding any delay in supervisor referrals is also key.

Q. I don’t think I should reject an employee who brings a personal problem to me. There needs to be some recognition and processing of the problem for a few minutes. I think this increases the chance of the employee accepting a referral to BJC EAP later when it is recommended.

A. You should not reject an employee who musters the courage to come to you with a personal problem. You are right, to do so would decrease the likelihood of accepting a BJC EAP referral. Here’s one approach: Listen and give some indication that you understand what is being shared. Then, 1) Praise the employee for coming to you. (“Mary, I am glad you felt comfortable coming to me about this.”) 2) Reflect what you heard or summarize. (“So, the bottom line is that your landlord is forcing you to leave and you have nowhere to go?”) 3) Set the stage for referral. (“Mary, there is a lot personal information needed to help solve this problem. As your supervisor, I am not the best one to hear this information, but BJC EAP would be ideal. Can I help you arrange an appointment to see them?”) 4) Allow the employee to call without delay, while motivation is high.

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