I’m constantly asked, “Al, what should I do about a staff member who has been a good team member in the past but is now struggling at work because their personal life has hit a giant rock in the road [or many rocks in the road!]. They’re falling apart at the seams in life and at work, and it’s causing everyone a lot of stress?”
The reality is sometimes the team member could be facing tough personal struggles like relationship troubles, sickness of their own or a family member, addiction and/or financial issues. It’s easy for them to let the personal strife at home destroy their effectiveness at work. And it’s easy for them to feel lost and want to throw in the towel on everything.
It’s a time for love and tough love.
You need to address the issue immediately rather than thinking it will blow over if you ignore it. That’s not very likely. What’s more likely to happen is they will turn this stumble into a collapse and it will likely undermine the whole team.
My suggestion has been to set up a one-to-one talk and let them know that you care for them not just as a worker but as a person. Then, offer assistance either by lending a sympathetic ear, helping them organize their priorities by dealing with the greatest challenges in a proactive way or if you feel more comfortable, offer them the opportunity to see a professional for counseling.
What needs to be made clear is something along the lines of what I’ve said when I’ve encountered this situation before:
- “You’re more than
just a staff member here. I care about you as a person. But, this is a business
first. Know that I’m here for you. But, you need to be here for yourself first
or the lifeline I’m throwing you will be of no use. Take 10 minutes with me and
write out right now in the left column all that’s going wrong [what you might call
areas of pain] and then in the right column write down all that you’re still
I know the trick in my own life in times of trouble has been to see what I saw as a negative at first and then challenge myself to restate it in the positive. It takes practice and patience. And we can do the same here including addressing how we can take steps to get you to a better place. It would be my honor and pleasure to help right here and right now or refer you to someone professional who can help.
Let me ask you a question first, how is screwing up at work going to help make any of the other things going wrong elsewhere in your life better? So as I see it, you can either choose to put on your blinders when you come to work just like a ballplayer does and deal with the other stuff when you get home, or you can take an agreed upon time away to settle the other issues and come back with your head in the right place.
It takes all of us pulling together to be successful.
How do you want to proceed?”
It’s been a powerful tonic for those who wish to take it. Many a good staff member, co-worker, partner and family member have been saved from early intervention like this.
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