Employers: 4 Ways to Handle Workers Under Personal Crisis

Today’s workplace is indeed a unique environment, encompassing an array of personalities across many backgrounds and circumstances.  Virtually everyone is saddled with personal responsibilities, challenges, and obstacles to overcome. Yet, it is a rare individual who can imperceptibly deal with extreme external turmoil while simultaneously performing the functions of his or her job. In fact, employers may find even their most reliable and productive talent fall victim to personal predicaments which negatively impact their jobs.

Employee Crisis - Woman at computer

A quality job performance requires absolute functionality of both mind and body, and when personal woes are putting the employee under excessive stress, results can be catastrophic. Employees who are preoccupied are not focused, and the negative sentiments absorbed outside of work often spill directly into the workplace. Employers need to be mindful of this fact; remembering that the well-being of their workers is at the cornerstone of the well-being of their organization. The immediate effects of a distracted employee, such as an email sent to the wrong inbox address or a transposed number on a financial report can result in long-term negative consequences for companies.

However, while employers know that a troubled employee can make a direct dent in their bottom line, letting this fear cloud their sense of empathy can be even more disastrous. None of us are immune to adversity – whether it is the death of a loved one, illness, divorce, or financial hardship – and it is critical that employers keep this in mind when dealing with workers in crisis.

Employee Crisis - Blue Graphic

Employers can learn to better manage employees under personal crisis by taking note of the following tips:

1.  Show you care in a sincere, professional way.

While it is not advised that you become your employee’s personal counselor, so to speak, checking in with a team member who is clearly showing signs of emotional distress can speak volumes. Let them know – without judgment – that you notice they haven’t been acting “themselves”, and if there is anything they’d like to share confidentially. A personal life that is in a state of flux can make common job challenges seem one hundred times worse.  So, while some employees may choose not to divulge, a gesture of caring sincerity can go a long way in helping your troubled worker deal with the everyday stresses of his or her job. Conversely, it is necessary for employers to retain their sense of professionalism in such circumstances, maintaining an appropriate balance between comrade and boss.

2.  Time off may be beneficial.  

An employee who is balanced will find it easier to remain engaged and cognizant throughout the day. Conversely, a worker who is constantly attempting to wade through a series of emotional hurdles will have a greater propensity toward frequent mistakes, in addition to a general sense of detachment from the team. Therefore, while an employer may naturally prefer their team to be physically present at all costs, taking the emotional health of their employees into account is critical. Consequently, a few days off or a short leave of absence can be rejuvenating to a worker in crisis, allowing him or her to dedicate uninterrupted time toward handling serious personal difficulties.  If granting leave is not possible, an employer might consider temporarily redistributing some extra responsibilities to scale down an overly heavy workload, or perhaps implementing a modified or flexible work schedule for a selected period of time.

3.  Provide/recommend support sources.

For employees experiencing extreme distress, some companies offer an Employee Assistance Program (EAP). An EAP is a voluntary work-based plan which provides free confidential referrals, assessments, short-term counseling, and follow-up services to employees experiencing personal and/or work related difficulties. EAP counselors work on a consultative basis with supervisors and managers to better address the needs and challenges of the employees as well as the organization. Furthermore, many EAPs work toward helping companies prevent and cope with trauma, workplace violence, and other circumstances warranting an emergency response. For companies that do not have an EAP in place — but feel that it would be a valuable adjunct to their benefit strategy — simply visit EmployeeAssitanceDirectory.org to find a local provider as well as which options and services would best suit your organization. If your organization already participates in an EAP, be sure to provide your distressed worker with the appropriate literature and resources to contact them.

4.  Follow up.

While the storm may have passed and your employee in crisis is now rejuvenated and back on track, don’t become entirely complacent. Remember that even the healthy need to go for a check-up from time to time. While you aren’t a medical doctor, you are the manager. Therefore, every now and then, a considerate “How are you holding up?” is healthy for morale. It demonstrates to the employee that you are still mindful of his or her welfare. Showing continued support for your workers inspires a sense of well-being, which results in increased loyalty and pride in one’s work.

Employee Crisis - Support graphic

Additional Resources…

If you or someone you know is currently experiencing a difficult time of crisis, the following links may be helpful:

Crisis Call Center / Crisis Services

Psych Central – Common Hotline Numbers

Mental Health America – Coping With Loss, Bereavement, and Grief




by Fred Coon, CEO

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