Managers can’t ignore workers’ personal problems

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Rey Elbo-125

In The Workplace

It’s easy to say for some people managers that employees must not bring their personal difficulties inside the office. However, we can’t avoid the fact that whatever happens, no matter how strong our policy against bringing up those issues with their family, their medical condition, money matters, among others, somehow it could adversely affect the quality and productivity of their work. So, how do you manage this common workplace issue? — White Flower.

One Friday, a 12-year old boy brought home his report card peppered with low grades. His mother asked: “What can you say about your school poor performance?” The boy replied: “Well, one thing is for sure. You know that I’m not a cheater.”

Likewise, if your workers are habitually absent or tardy, one thing is for sure, you know they have an uncontrollable personal issue. Seriously, it’s easy for management to rationalize that the workers’ family or financial problems or what have you, should not impact on their ability to perform their assigned tasks.

In real work life, however, that’s not how it goes. Every one of us, regardless of our position in any corporate hierarchy, whether one is part of management or not, there will come a time that personal problems surface and conflict with the demands of our respective job assignments. In these cases, people managers must exercise reasonable flexibility in dealing with those issues.

The personal issues may be due to single parenthood, two working parents dealing with kids, the illness of a family member, even the employee’s extra-marital affairs, among other things. You cannot avoid it. There will come a time when management will have to adjust the concerned employee’s work schedule so that he can take care of an ailing spouse, child, or parent.

In this case, the solution includes allowing him to work from home (if practical), assuming that he has already consumed all of his leaves. Of course, all of these can only be done in a limited period of time, say for a maximum of three months of leave without pay.

Therefore, it is imperative for people managers to help employees adjust to their personal problems until they have finally resolved them. If you do just that, your management can reap a long-term beneficial relationship with people by winning their support and loyalty, who know that someday, such problems may befall them.

It’s not easy to do all these. I suggest the following steps to minimize the difficulties of management in resolving the issues at hand:

One, create a policy that addresses the most common personal issue. This can be done by taking into consideration the rate of related issues that are cropping up from time-to-time. Having a formal policy ensures that you apply it consistently to all concerned. And when you draft the policy, ensure that you have reviewed the best practices in your industry and not of other sectors and with proper consultation with other department managers.

Two, be reasonably flexible but within the bounds of your policy. Even with an established policy, there could come a time when you have to adjust to a specific, unforeseen situation. If that happens, make sure that exceptions apply only to those employees with above average work performance and not to those with dismal records, including those who have violated the company’s disciplinary policies.

If you make an exception, include a statement in your formal memorandum to the concerned employee that such decision should not establish a bad precedent and each and every situation will be treated depending on the circumstances and merits of each case.

Three, use the opportunity to create new opportunities for everyone. This may include dividing the task of a certain worker with personal problem so the team can be highly-cooperative and learn to pitch in by performing other work responsibilities as well. Requiring everyone in your team to support one another will help boost morale and increase their chance to improve their team capacity.

Not only that. With this approach, you are giving the chance for workers to perform other tasks and propose solutions, if not create new ideas for certain recurring work issues.

Four, monitor the performance of all workers under your supervision. But not close enough for every people manager to micro-manage them. Some workers may hide their personal problems to management, but not for long as somehow, their poor performance will show. If this happens, talk to those concerned employee about the dip in their work performance and offer assistance to improve.

Don’t assume that everyone has a personal problem. If you are a trustworthy manager with a good reputation, chances are people will seek your assistance and confide to you their personal issues.

Last, request people to resign but give them the chance to come back. That is, if they have already exhausted their paid and unpaid three-month vacation leaves with no final resolution of their individual personal concern in the short term. Ensure that “boomerang employees” are eligible only if they have a consistent above-average work performance and if there’s a job vacancy.

Remember, it’s not easy to hire good workers. It pays to be as flexible to meet such special request from your best and brightest workers who are experiencing personal problems. Having a written policy like that protects you from being singled out by your peers and other employees who may think of you as being too soft or protective of certain favored workers.

ELBONOMICS: Every problem has its own invisible solution.


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