Chip Shots - When Personal Challenges Impact Work

Here at Lead Change Group, we know that problems are most effectively solved when individuals come together to meld ideas, energies, and approaches.

To use a golf analogy, not every shot is a long drive. Many times, golfers have to take a chip shot to move the ball along for a short distance, with incisive accuracy.

If you are new to the Chip Shots green, welcome. In our Chip Shots feature, our Leading Voices are invited to provide brief insights into a leadership-related topic.

To learn more, spend some time browsing the entire Chip Shots Series.

Today’s Question

If an employee's personal challenges are impacting their work and the work of their team, what is the first thing you should do or say as a leader in order to restore a sense of order?

Chip Bell responds:

"What you actually say would be tailored to the person but the messaging should be compassion, commitment and discipline. First, I care about you; I care about our work together as a team. How can I help? Second, we have a job to do that we are accountable for achieving; how can our team help you through this challenging issue? Finally, what commitments can you make to ensure you shoulder the responsibilities you have agreed to perform as a member of our team?"

David Dye advises: 

"Start with empathy: That sounds frustrating, difficult, overwhelming, etc. If the person needs assistance that your organization or another offers, let them know its available. After making the human connection, reinforce expectations and, if needed, ask how you can work together to get them back to 100%."

Mike Henry contributes: 

"Balance in this area is difficult. Often so much depends on the actual personal challenges and the scope of impact to their work. If the personal challenges are extra-ordinary, then the leader should volunteer the resources to assist in restoring order. The leader should offer the person time off or  whatever is needed to help the team member get through the personal challenges.  Recently, my employer made some fairly expensive travel adjustments to enable me to assist my family in time of loss.  The lost day or two didn't kill the team and I ended up where I needed to be. I appreciated the accommodation."

"The problem comes when the personal challenges are everyday in nature. Sometimes we let small things have a disproportionate impact. Then our leader must help the individual restore perspective and challenge them to minimize the impact to the team. The challenge for leaders is gauging the challenge without offending the team member or creating undue burden for the rest of the team."

Mary Schaefer writes: 

"You've got an HR manager answering this one, so I'm going to go conservative. Often managers think they know what is going on, and it is not good to assume. Even if an employee is willing to talk about a personal issue, first, they may not want you to bring it up before they choose to, and secondly, you may get in over your head really fast."

"My best advice is to describe to the employee the behavior or performance deficit you see and note that it is different than usual. Ask if there is anything you can do. Depending on the relationship and the work culture, you might be able to get more personal, but then you have to consider if you would do that with everyone. It's best to acknowledge what you notice and let them reveal what they choose."

"You can also carefully remind them of the benefits available to them, like employee assistance. And compassionately remind them of their responsibilities and standards in the workplace. It's a careful balance of I'm on your side and I'm holding you accountable."

Thank you Chip, David, Mike, and Mary for taking a shot at this question.

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