Managers are often mystified by issues that arise – especially issues that involve their employees. The following is an example of something a manager may encounter and inquire about:
An employee came to talk to me about a devastating and nasty divorce she is going through. She wanted to convey that it’s adversely affecting her work, which I can understand. However, she persisted in sharing many personal details. Other team members have told me she’s constantly talking to them about her divorce and it’s interfering with work. I think she is looking for someone who can listen and help her through this painful time, but I’m not comfortable doing so. Is this part of my job as a manager? How do I address the disruption she’s causing in the workplace without making her feel as if no one cares?
Kudos for recognizing your employee is in distress and wanting to offer your support. However, you’re right to question whether it’s your job as a manager to help her through a painful time. Simply stated, it’s not. As a manager, taking on all of your employees personal issues isn’t helping. What you can do, however, is offer support and direct them to resources equipped to help, such as your organization’s Employee Assistance Program or EAP.
Your role as a manager is to make sure everyone on the team is getting their work done and you must show concern and support for all of them. Not only is this troubled employee dragging you down, she’s impacting the productivity of everyone on the team, including you. It’s time to refer her to the EAP. The EAP’s role is to assist troubled employees with personal problems affecting their lives and their work.
Start by seeking guidance from an EAP counselor who can prepare you for the referral discussion with the employee. They can role play with you so you are comfortable you’ll be saying the right things in a positive way.
When you do talk to the employee, express concern and empathy for her situation. However, you also must convey the message that while you care, her behavior is disrupting her co-workers, and you care about them too.
Describe the specific behavior causing disruption. For example, “I overheard you discussing your divorce with Jill on Monday while she was trying to meet a deadline. Later she complained to me it was difficult to concentrate while you were talking.” This detail lets her know you’ve noticed something.
After describing the problem, remind her that the organization provides a resource to employees for these circumstances and recommend that she seek help from the EAP. Be clear it’s her decision to take advantage of the help, but she is still accountable for her behavior in the workplace. It’s important for you, as a manager, to recognize the referral to the EAP is voluntary, no conditions can be place on the referral – call them by next Wednesday – and no punitive action can result if she doesn’t contact the EAP.
You can, and should, continue to monitor her behavior and provide the employee with feedback about her work. Hopefully, she’ll, recognize your concern, take advantage of this resource, get through this trying time, and return to being a valued employee on your team.
Cornelia Gamlem is an author, consultant and speaker. She is founder and President of the Gems Group, a management consulting firm that offers Human Resources and business solutions. She is the co-author of “The Manager’s Answer Book” and is an influencer to business and HR communities.