When Tim came to work that morning it was obvious he hadn’t slept much. His disheveled look and withdrawn demeanor was unlike his standard gregarious and happy disposition. Everyone knew something was wrong, no one had seen Tim like this in his 11 years tenure at the company.
Kerry was always punctual for work and rarely missed a day. In the last two months Kerry had arrived to work late at least twice a week. It was July and she had already used most of her three weeks of vacation. This was unusual for Kerry, she always had vacation time left over at the end of the year.
Both Tim and Kerry were experiencing a personal crisis. Tim was at the beginning of a bitter divorce and the war over the children was just beginning. Kerry had been diagnosed with cancer and was trying to work as long as possible, even when she didn’t feel good. These examples are common place if you spend enough time in the workplace. During a 30 year career, I am willing to bet that you will experience some type of personal crisis that will affect your work.
I am often asked “what is the best way to manage an individual who is going through a crisis?” Let me share three questions to immediately ask to assist you with assessing the impact on the individual and the organization. Your goal as a leader is to manage in a way that keeps the organization running and the individual feeling like they were treated fairly and respectfully.
When an individual alerts you to their crisis take a step back and ask three questions. First, what can you and the organization do to treat this employee fairly and respectfully. (Especially if they have proven to be a valuable employee). What resources does the organization have that can help the employee through this difficult time? You do not need the specifics of the crisis, leave that part to human resources.
Second, how is this going to impact the organization and the team? Despite life’s events work still needs to be completed and understanding the impact of this crisis on the team and the organization can assist you with making decisions on how to keep projects and work progressing.
Third, what is the duration of the crisis? It may be easy to cover work and projects if the crisis lasts a few weeks. But in both Tim and Kerry’s case the issues could continue for months. It is imperative to understand and keep communication lines open to learn how long arrangements may need to be made. Don’t be caught off guard, communicate often with your employee (and HR also!) to have have the information you need to make good decisions.
Employees experiencing a crisis need a manager who is caring, encouraging, but also able to handle the organizational needs and objectives. It is a constant balancing act, but if done correctly may be a defining moment in your leadership career.