When serving in a management position, confronting an employee can be an uncomfortable—but sometimes necessary—part of one’s job. When an employee’s personal life impacts their job performance, how should a manager address the issue? This situation can be a tricky one to navigate, but when you are responsible for the upkeep of a company, this a tough call you may find yourself having to make.
Six current or former managers weighed in on when confronting employees about their personal lives is appropriate and how to approach the situation:
1. Make the most out of performance appraisals
“When private lives start to affect performance at work, it is no longer simply a private issue — it impacts the whole business. Managers should familiarize themselves with signs and symptoms of employee burnout, anxiety and depression. If these are detected, managers should step in immediately and, in the privacy of a one-on-one meeting, offer support and assistance. Providing employees with help early on can make all the difference. Many organizations are incorporating regular performance discussions in favor of annual appraisals; such occasions are an optimal time to highlight any changes you may have noticed.”
-Stuart Hearn, CEO
2. Proceed with kindness
“It is appropriate for a manager to confront an employee about their personal life when it affects the job they were hired to do. When an individual brings all of their issues, problems, challenges, etc. into the office, which in turns not only affect their performance but that of those around them, it's time to discuss this. It becomes appropriate not to get involved with what's happening at home, but to remind them of their work responsibility and encourage them to find a solution that benefits.
I have served in several leadership positions and had to make this call multiple times. My main objective was to find a solution and not just offer threats of losing their position. I wanted the person to know that I was aware of the rough season they were in. When confronting an employee, please do not throw the book at them or come with a long laundry list of all they do that's wrong. Be prepared to have something good to say, and give them the benefit of the doubt and time to change.”
- Chantay Briggs, coach, realtor, speaker & writer
3. Present multiple courses of action
“Some clear-cut situations in which a manager should intervene include evidence of alcohol or substance use, and behaviors which are typically not tolerated in the workplace. They can lead to erratic behavior, poor job performance and even unsafe conditions, depending on the type of work being done. Therefore, if a manager notices a problem they should arrange for a meeting between themselves, an HR staff member, and the employee in question to express concern and willingness to help the employee get professional help. Giving the worker options and opportunities to work on the problem shows real care and dedication to their wellness.
Although it might be uncomfortable for the employee to have a third-party HR staff member present for the meeting, this is truly necessary in order for a manager to protect themselves. If the manager confronts the employee alone, there’s no knowing how they will react.”
-Nate Masterson, CEO
4. Address the issue early on
“In general, managers shouldn't intervene in an employee's personal life unless their behavior is impacting others on the team, or if they are unable to perform their duties properly due to their personal circumstances. If this is the case, then it's generally best to start with an open and honest conversation about the issue. Managers need to make sure they are highlighting the situation, the behavior they have noticed and the impact that it has had. If possible, prepare a plan to address the situation and monitor the employee to ensure that it's working. If that doesn't help, it is best to seek assistance from your HR team to understand the situation and your options.
Often, HR will be able to help you with a "fit for work" assessment that aims to ensure that an employee can perform their role. Otherwise, formal performance management procedures are the next best option. It's important that managers act quickly to solve the problem before it escalates into a larger issue.”
-Ben Brearley, leadership coach, author and consultant
5. Be flexible
“I believe that a manager should intervene if an employee's personal life is affecting their work. If I were in this situation, I would meet with them privately to ask how they are doing, and mention that I've noticed a change in them and their work, ask if there is anything I can do to help or if they need to take a few days off work in order to deal with what they are going through. Sometimes this is really needed, but the person is afraid to ask because they don't want to risk their job. By offering this option, they know we care, that they have our support, and that time off won't affect their job status.”
-Carol Smith, business owner
6. Offer solutions
“For 14 years, I was the department administrator at a university. I supervised an administrative assistant and various student assistants. I was hesitant to intervene in their lives unless it was warranted, meaning if it interfered with their well-being or job performance. But when my former administrative started getting a lot of personal calls from family members that left her upset and affected her work, I stepped in. Because of our close relationship, she shared a little about what was going on, and I suggested ways to handle some of her issues. For example, if an issue was serious but not an emergency, addressing it could wait until she got home.”
-Carol Gee, author
Managers and company leaders reached an overall consensus that intervening in an employee’s personal life is acceptable only when their personal life impacts the way in which the employee performs their job. With this in mind, managers who find themselves in this situation should approach the situation with kindness and tact. Offering solutions and involving the human resources department can also help the situation go over as smoothly as possible.
Kayla Heisler is an essayist and Pushcart Prize-nominated poet. She is a contributing writer for Color My Bubble. Her work appears in New York's Best Emerging Poets 2017 anthology.