Frontline Supervisor: How to Handle Employees’ Personal Problems

Frontline Supervisor: How to Handle Employees’ Personal Problems

On 16 Nov 2014, in Management, coaching

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 says she has distracting personal problems that cause her to be irritable to front office customers. I was about to make a supervisor referral when she shared this information and said she had an appointment with BJC EAP. Should I hold off, or make the referral?

A. Your decision should be based on how important it is to your organization that your employee improve her attitude. Although you could wait, the stronger argument is to make the supervisor referral now. Your employee says she has an appointment, but you cannot confirm when, if she will keep it, or if she will tell the EAP about her performance problems. The EAP needs to know about the performance problems you have observed to make a correct assessment of her personal problems. If you do not make a supervisor referral, will you take disciplinary action if your employee demonstrates inappropriate behavior again? Or, will you make a supervisor referral as originally planned, giving her another chance? These issues suggest that a supervisor referral is a proactive approach to helping your employee improve her performance and it shouldn't wait.

Q. I found myself advising my employee about her personal problems when she disclosed them in a corrective interview. I suddenly realized how easy this is to do. I know I should refer her to BJC EAP, but isn’t it offensive to say to the employee, “don’t tell me, tell the consultant?”

A. Admittedly, it is difficult not to respond with an idea or a possible solution to a personal problem when one is disclosed in a corrective interview. This does not mean that your employee must experience rejection from you for sharing something personal. Empathetically listening to your employee and acting supportive is a legitimate role for a supervisor. It does not imply that you are offering solutions, counseling your employee or involving yourself in the personal problem. Suggesting that the employee use BJC EAP if something personal is contributing to job performance problems is also a good move in a corrective interview. It frequently prompts a disclosure of some personal problem. This can make a supervisor referral based on job performance problems even more meaningful for the employee.

Q. I’m sympathetic to a worker with personal problems that are affecting her performance. She doesn’t want to go to BJC EAP because she says she’s “had it with therapy.” I know I can’t force her to go. Isn’t it better to respect her wishes?

A. It is appropriate to tell your employee that BJC EAP is not the same as psychotherapy. From your perspective, it is her performance that concerns you. Be clear about this when making any supervisor referral. Not all employees who visit BJC EAP are referred to psychotherapy. Your employee may be resistant to working with BJC EAP if she knows personal issues will be identified that she does not want to address. You can’t control what she ultimately decides to do. The consultant will work with her to develop actionable steps and strategies. After your referral, your employee may continue to deal with the situation on her own and avoid BJC EAP. It will then be necessary to consider how to respond to her increasing performance problems.

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