In an ideal world, your employees are never sick, sad, or stressed. They report to work every morning, and are forever happy and smiling. However, we live in reality, where even your star talent will experience occasional periods of distress or crisis.
Personal issues are sticky because you want to keep things professional and your small business running smoothly. If you’ve known the employee for a while, it can be challenging to know where to draw the line between offering support and ensuring their work gets done and that coworkers and customers aren’t affected by the situation.
We all try to keep our work and home lives separate, but sometimes those worlds collide, and you don’t want to be the heartless manager who trades empathy for efficiency. Yet, there’s a difference between being a caring and supportive boss and getting embroiled in your employee’s personal struggles—despite your best intentions to remain neutral.
You can’t afford to ignore the problem because the state of your employee’s personal life affects their mood, performance, and interactions with your staff and customers. According to a Stanford University study, work/family conflict has just as much of a negative impact on employee health as working long hours, which means you and your small business could end up bearing the burden of increased health-related costs and loss of productivity.
Toeing the personal/professional line is one of the greatest tests of your leadership abilities, so what do you do when your employees bring their personal problems into the workplace? Before you jump into the fray, here’s your five-step crisis management plan.
Step 1: Be Present and Compassionate Without Being a Therapist
Be a proactive leader. If you witness changes in an employee’s mood or behavior, or if your staff comes to you with concerns, act on them. Invite your employee to meet with you privately or even take them out for coffee, so they can feel more comfortable in explaining the situation.
Listen without being a therapist or personal confidante. You can offer support without shouldering their crisis. Blurring the lines between boss and friend may score you short-term loyalty points, but it only causes long-term issues. The more emotion you invest in the situation, the harder it becomes to have frank conversations with your employee. Every employee should be treated equally, and tipping the scales can create more harm when it comes to overall morale.
Remember, you’re the boss, and respecting your employee’s privacy is of the utmost importance. While it’s not your place to suss out the details of their messy divorce, personal tragedy, or familial illness, you need to know enough to make an informed decision about how to manage the crisis and its potential impact on your business.
Step 2: Assess the Options and Establish a Game Plan
Depending on the severity of the issue, your employee might need a few days to regroup. Or they may require a longer-term plan. Sit down with the employee and determine how much time they’ll need to manage their personal crisis. Can you offer them paid leave, reduced hours, days off, or a more flexible schedule? Does your health insurance plan offer counseling or health-related services that could be of use to your employee? Alert them of their options, even if you think they know them.
Once you have a sense of how much time they’ll need to take off, you can work with them to assess their workload. Map out all of their tasks—even the smallest ones—and ask them, realistically, how much they can manage. It is, however, your call to evaluate what they can really manage, as star performers or employees concerned about job security might over-promise and under-deliver, and then you’re stuck without a plan. So, plan for the worst-case scenario and adjust accordingly.
Once you have a sense of their tasks, reallocate the employee’s assignments and workload across the team temporarily. You don’t want to have another star shouldering all the stress of the employee in crisis in addition to their workload. Establish an interim plan to ensure coverage, so your business doesn’t suffer.
Step 3: Communicate With Your Team
Be transparent and honest with your team about your employee’s dilemma, but use discretion. Other team members don’t need to know all the details, but presenting the facts in a timely and professional manner helps shuts down the rumor mill and demonstrates that you have the situation under control.
It’s important that you manage the flow of information and empower your employees to communicate openly with you throughout the process. Having an open door policy during the event will help in keeping your workplace environment positive and productive.
Present the temporary workaround plan to key members of the team and invite their input—because your team members are closer to the day-to-day and they’ll have a better sense of who can manage what.
Keep in mind that your other employees are stepping up, and you want to acknowledge their dedication and hard work. From hosting a pizza party to giving spot bonuses, creating small rewards will signal that you value your staff’s commitment to your business.
Step 4: Establish Employee Check-Ins
You want to be present without being intrusive. Establish with your employee, as part of the temporary coverage plan, specific check-ins down to the day and time. This will ensure that your employee is prepared to give you pertinent updates on what’s going on, and you can determine how any shifts from the game plan will impact your business. You may find that you have to adjust your strategy and make decisions about your team, depending upon the well-being of your employee in crisis.
Step 5: Have a Back-Up Plan…Just in Case
Naturally, you have the best intentions for your employees and you want to make sure that there’s as little disruption as possible. However, you have to be realistic about the situation, and creating a Plan B will create further business stability. That could be anything from reallocating resources internally to securing a long-term replacement or hiring additional team members.
One of the most important investments you can make in your small business is to have your team members document what they do, how they do it, and the flow of their day-to-day activities. Logging this on an internal website or keeping copies printed in a binder will reduce the risk of all the knowledge leaving should your employee take a leave. This also cuts down training and onboarding time for temporary or full-time replacements.
If and when the employee returns, create a transition plan so that their return is a smooth one. Also, make a point to check in with them every so often. Simply showing your concern means everything to an employee who has just emerged from a crisis situation. In short, they’ll know you have their back.
While we try to create a divide between the personal and the professional, in reality, the two worlds definitely overlap. Creating an atmosphere of open communication and camaraderie can help make the process of planning for how your small business will handle an employee crisis a seamless one.
Have you had any experiences with a crisis management plan? Let us know in the comments.