Whatever your job title may be, if there’s a people-management aspect to your role, chances are there’ll be times when your team need more than just guidance on their work. Whether it’s a personal issue, the prospect of redundancy or something else, part of being a successful manager is helping your team when they’re experiencing difficulty.

It may not always be clear that a staff member is going through a hard time. Short of hearing it straight from the horse’s mouth, there’re certainly warning signs that can indicate all is not well:

  • Loss of concentration or focus
  • Poor time-management (especially when this hasn’t been an issue previously)
  • Easily irritable
  • Fatigue
  • Diminished participation in the workplace
  • Out-of-the-ordinary behaviour

Maybe you’ve noticed that Joan is seeming a bit off recently, or perhaps Tim has given you the heads up that Sam is struggling with a personal matter. Whatever the situation, there are a few key things you can do to help your staff cope with difficulty:

Provide open and transparent communication:
Open and clear communication is the golden rule of any managerial position. This is particularly important when it comes to organisational changes where people’s jobs will be affected. It’s really vital to ensure that any important messaging or updates come from the top first, not the office rumour-mill!

While there can be a tendency to want to keep things on the downlow in order to prevent any undue panic, a transparent and open communication style is best practice. If employees feel like they’re being kept in the dark, they’ll likely return the favour!

Create a safe environment for your staff to operate in and provide options for them to privately let you know if they’re experiencing an issue, regardless of whether it’s work related or not.

Lead with Empathy:
It’s common sense, if a team member has something big going on in their private life, that’s going to take up a lot of their emotional and physical energy. It’s hard to focus on work when you’re thinking about a sick family member, the prospect of job loss or a difficult living situation. Whatever the case may be, humans need time to process and deal with things. Despite what some may claim, humans are not effective multi-taskers – we can only properly deal with one thing rattling round in our head at a time, so it stands to reason that if your employee has something weighing on their mind, they need time to deal with it.

Empathy goes a long way. As does patience. If a staff member is having a tough time, even they may not be able to put their finger on what the problem is straight away. If you know that a team member is struggling with something in their personal life, try to provide flexibility where you can. Whether that’s giving them some time off, assisting them to seek professional help, or perhaps adjusting their workload to better suit what they can handle right now. Work with the employee to find solutions that’ll suit them best, be prepared for it to be an ongoing thing and keep checking in to see how they’re doing.

Respect their privacy:
Take time to listen and offer opportunities for staff to talk to you away from open ears. If you notice something’s up, discreetly ask them if they want to talk in a private space but accept that not everyone feels comfortable sharing details about their personal life, especially with their manager. Make it clear that you are there to support, but don’t force someone to share if they don’t feel comfortable doing so!

That being said, if an employee tells you something that makes you concerned for their safety or wellbeing, you need to take appropriate steps. It’s not the time to judge how serious they may be, if concerns about their mental wellbeing or safety are brought to your attention, you need to act on them.

The Mental Health Foundation has some great resources and guides on what to do if you’re worried about someone’s wellbeing – you can find out more here.

It’s a balancing act:
While your role as a manager is to support your staff, know your limits and look after your own mental health too. Unless you’re a trained counsellor or therapist, it might be best to leave the therapy sessions to a professional.

You also need to keep a consistent approach to how you support your team. Playing favourites or devoting all your energy to one person will be noticed by the rest of the group and could lead to further problems down the line.

If the situation is having a negative impact on the person’s ability to do their job, that needs to be addressed before it begins to influence the rest of your team. The last thing you want is your other employees being left trying to pick up the slack and feeling hard done by as a result. That’s why you need to act quickly and put plans in place as soon as you’re aware that something is wrong.

Given recent events, it’s fair to say that everyone has experienced uncertainty and stress when it comes to work, and that may increase as time and the pandemic goes on. The Prime Minister’s message of “Be Kind” absolutely applies when it comes to helping your team get through difficulty.

If you’re worried about how to handle a situation with a team member and don’t have dedicated HR support available, please don’t hesitate to get in touch for more help and guidance from the McLaren Associates team.

Best wishes,
Kirsty and Nikki

Gaining work experience when you’re just starting out
Five Top Tips for creating a bespoke cover letter