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Now that’s a mouthful, but every leader has had the moment when a stutter or stammer was all they could offer in the face of an employee oversharing personal problems at the office. We’ve all got problems and we all make choices as to how to handle our personal life matters. Some handle them better than most. Some handle them in the same manner we might were the roles reversed. But, what happens when you the leader, need to reengage an employee’s focus on the job they have, instead of the personal tragedy, child issue, or family matter that has become all consuming? Addressing employee emotions and setting boundaries can be tricky and awkward. Left untreated, unaddressed or avoided, they get worse. The five responses in today’s Monday Moment will make a leader’s life easier, as well as minimize further distraction and help to improve greater focus on results production.

1.      Talk To Me

Many times employees seek the counsel and sounding board of colleagues because they don’t believe their leader will listen. Employees may also believe their leader will judge them or hold the situation against them. Look, we all have problems and have all faced one or more or many of life’s challenges. Treat those you lead like humans and be there for them. If you’re there for them the first time, chances are you won’t keep hearing about the issue. Listen and simply say talk to me or tell me more and then stop talking. Maybe you can help. Maybe they don’t know you have additional employee assistance resources. Maybe the employee doesn’t know about FMLA or that they can take a sick day.

2.      To Fix or Listen

Common in our personal lives is the stereotype that men often try to fix and women tend to listen. At work, the stereotype switches to leaders tend to fix, fellow employees tend to listen. Ask the question. Does the employee want you the leader to provide solutions or just listen? Do they need a shoulder at the moment or options that give them choices? Asking this question gives you more information as to their state of mind and how their mindset will impact their performance. Asking this question also gives you the leader, the option and permission to change your role if a decline in performance continues.

3.      My Role is Changing

Some employees are completely ill equipped to handle what life throws at them. Some have completely poor judgment and make bad repeated choices. Some become a victim. No matter your employee’s issue, one response, if you find listening and/or offering solutions to be ineffective, is to let him or her know your role is changing. Tell the employee your role of counselor and guide has to change to one of manager of performance and if their work quality continues to slip, you’ll be forced to make changes or adjustments in their role or actions to keep things moving. You wear manager and leader hats daily and it is appropriate to let the employee know when that hat may need to change. You’re not being cold, you’re performing your role and responsibility of managing the business.

4.      It Has Become Obvious

Few leaders lack complete compassion or are uncaring, cold hearted ogres. Most simply don’t know how to set boundaries or clarify expectations and end up allowing an employee’s personal issues to cloud their judgment. If the employee’s issue continues and performance in numbers or demeanor or affect on others is still an issue, gather your specific list of bullet pointed bits of evidence and say to the employee it has become obvious your personal issue needs to be your top priority. You are not judging their choice. You are addressing what has become their obvious choice and will need to follow your list of reasons with the consequences or changes you believe need to occur, and by what date, if nothing changes.

5.      The Time Has Come

If you have employed the prior four responses in order, the time has come conversation will not be a surprise to the employee in question. Tragedies occur. Loved ones are lost. Illness and dealing with it is all consuming. You’ve listened. You’ve asked. You’ve guided, and you’ve set boundaries. You’ve provided available resources and you’ve alerted the employee that this conversation would be coming. Whatever they’ve been doing, such as talking to others, being dramatic, whining, playing the victim, or just shutting down because they can’t deal with the issue, is no longer working in their current employment agreement. Ask the employee what they would prefer to do and give them specific guidance on what needs to happen to make that a reality. Have your own list of options and be ready to put them into action. The time has come response to their behavior is about making changes. Be sure you are prepared to make them.

The news of a tragedy has become far too common and employee stress, anger, and negativity with limited outlets for venting has become our new reality. These events impact them personally and then begin to impact your business. Leaders monitor how much this occurs. Leaders use their own best judgment to determine how quickly these responses are given and in what order. Leaders who ignore the impact of an employee’s personal life lose good team members, damage their reputation, and risk being part of the problem. Don’t be one of those leaders. Care about those you lead and care equally as much about the role you’ve been given and the others who need you to be a leader even when times are tough and decisions aren’t easy.

Monica Wofford, CSP is a leadership development specialist and professional speaker. Her coaching, books, and skill based training programs are requested internationally. Monica is the CEO of  www.ContagiousCompanies.com and a candidate for the Florida House of Representatives. She may be reached at 1-866-382-0121.

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