Wisdom//

4 Ways to Support an Employee Going Through a Personal Hardship

Managers, this advice is for you.

GoodStudio / Shutterstock
GoodStudio / Shutterstock

Life has a way of dealing us certain blows that temporarily distract us from our work. But when someone on your team is the one going through a hard time, you may not know how to best support them while also making sure things run smoothly on the job.

To make things a bit easier for you and your direct report, experts shared their tips for managing someone going through a rough patch.

Practice patience 

When an employee is going through a personal hardship, being empathetic is key — and that requires a hefty dose of patience. “Employees will need extra support but often they don’t even know what that looks like until they get further into their situation,” Liz Kislik, M.B.A., a management consultant and executive coach facilitator, tells Thrive. For instance, “they receive a diagnosis but don’t truly understand the ramifications until they’ve worked out the logistical details of treatment, or a loved one has a problem and they don’t know the full extent yet.” So while it’s normal to want the full picture right away so you can assess how the team will be impacted, it’s crucial to you give your team member time.

Don’t dig for details 

Some employees may be more forthcoming than others, and it’s important to respect their degree of candidness when they open up to you. “You shouldn’t dig around for information intrusively, or try to satisfy personal curiosity,” Kislik says. Keep in mind, too, that some employees would rather keep what they have disclosed just between the two of you and H.R. Be mindful of holding your conversations in a private area to ease their worry about others listening in.

Create an atmosphere of openness 

As a manager, it’s up to you to create an environment in which your employees feel comfortable talking about their ups and downs outside of the workplace. “It is important to actually say that you’d like to be aware of any outside stresses,” Madelyn Blair, Ph.D., an author, resilience advisor, and lecturer at Columbia University, tells Thrive. Blair also recommends modeling the behavior yourself: At the start of a meeting, you could say, for instance, “I was up all night last night caring for a sick spouse, so if I yawn during our meeting, don’t take it personally.”

Make sure there’s follow-through 

It’s one thing to tell your employee that you are there for them, but it’s another to actually show them. If your direct report is dealing with a long-term hardship, Kislik recommends checking in a week or two after your initial conversation and scheduling regular check-ins after that. This practice can be valuable to both parties, Kislik points out  — you’ll stay in the know about any new developments, and your team member will feel they have a strong support system enabling them to persevere. “There may be small accommodations that are possible as the situation unfolds, as simple as letting an employee with migraines wear headphones in the office to block some of the noise, or letting them work from home twice a week so they can help care for a loved one,” Kislik suggests. Little gestures can have a big impact.

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