Managing Employees Experiencing a Personal Crisis

When you have made your career a top priority in your life as many of us have, professional commitment has really never come into question.  Continually striving for excellence and making sacrifices in order to fulfill workplace commitments are many times engrained into our character.  We go to work sick, miss social events with friends and family, and depending on the career work straight through the big holidays. However, no one is immune to the unexpected life tragedy or hardship. It happens to all of us at one point or another. Whether it is the death of a loved one, a divorce, a life-threatening illness or injury, financial hardship, or something else, personal hardship takes its toll on all of us at one point or another. 

One of the most significant people in our lives who can drastically assist us in navigating these life hardships in a healthy and productive way is our immediate supervisor.  Knowing how to support employees during times of crisis is essential to healthy management.  Allowing employees to take care of themselves emotionally while also making sure they are a productive member of the team (as much as they physically or mentally can be) is a delicate balance that many managers find themselves having difficulty with, especially when there are tight deadlines and other member of the team are having to pick up extra work.  Linda Hill, professor at Harvard Business School and author of Being the Boss, states that managing an employee going through a stressful period is “one of the real challenges managers face” because depending on how they handle it, shapes the future of the team and possibly the organization down the road. 

Many of us try to keep our work and home separate, but “we all have situations in which our personal and professional lives collide,” and how we handle these situations with employees is often a true test of leadership.  Empathy, compassion, and consideration need to be at the forefront in order for productivity to remain.  Not only does the person themselves feel the support but the rest of your team will be watching.  It is a fine line to maintain however, how a manager navigates an employee’s personal hardship is often viewed as a testament to one’s leadership character. 

Investing time in building healthy relationships with your employees early on will allow for the comfortability in that employee to confide so that if and when a personal issue arises, they will do just that. A good manager has the ability to read and understand the needs of others, reducing the anxiety of the team. Offering anything within your purview to offer from a flexible schedule, an adjusted workload with a temporary work-from-home arrangement will go a long way in creating a culture of support.  Being conscious of the fact that others will take notice of how the struggling colleague is treated and that it will without a doubt be remembered as part of your leadership style is paramount in ultimately understanding what creates workplace comradery.   

As the manager it is ultimately when, not if, you might find yourself in a personal crisis as well and teams will move mountains for leaders who they feel have their backs.  It really is that simple.  We will all find ourselves in need of help and support from others at some point and our supportive actions are heard much louder than words.