A broken plastic toy in the desert.

Helping Others When They Are Not Resilient

During and after the Industrial Revolution, the work mantra was almost “leave yourself at home”, but today we understand that employees are human beings regardless of location. Managers are often confronted by a situation where an employee’s personal life negatively affects their work performance and they cannot deal with it independently.

When we examine how managers support individuals dealing with personal issues, we encounter two contrasting approaches. The first is to “remain strictly professional” – employees don’t bring their personal lives into the office. The second is “bring your whole self to work” – the management style that encourages people to treat the workplace as a home away from home.

Sitting between these two fields is HR, and they are sweating blood. On the one hand, they have a mandate to create a great workplace, with employee engagement, compassion, and support on an individual level. On the other hand, they are struggling to figure out where to draw the line, because they could get the company into moral or legal trouble by giving employees advice on a personal level, when that advice does more harm than good.

Below, I have outlined three simple things you can do for an employee struggling with personal issues. These also apply outside of the work context.

Hear Them Out:

Sometimes all it takes is to be heard. Coaching and therapy are becoming increasingly sought after, and a large factor in this is the simple fact that few people have someone who will sit down, hold space for them, and just let them speak. This is one of the things that coaches do quite well because they are not trained to give advice, they are trained to listen and ask questions to clarify what you want to do and what is holding you back.

Simply discussing a topic can be incredibly beneficial, often helping individuals uncover their thoughts; we don’t always realize what’s in our minds until we express it verbally.

The Three Ps:

The Three Ps is a short list of questions intended to help someone think their way through a situation. Let’s use a car accident on the way to work as an example.

  • Is it Personal? “Personal” here has two meanings. Something is personal when it is self-inflicted, but it is also personal when someone they know purposefully did it to them.

The car accident is not personal, any other cars could have collided instead.

  • Is it Permanent? Whatever form the damage takes, will it last the next five, ten, or twenty years, or can it be fixed relatively quickly?

The car accident is not permanent, depending on the damage it may only be at the panel beater for a month or so.

  • Is it Pervasive? Does this one thing break or ruin everything else? When things go wrong, people tend to overreact. Making mountains out of molehills tends to make any one problem seem pervasive, giving it a larger perceived impact than it really has.

The car accident could prove to be pervasive, depending on access to alternative transport – between ridesharing and delivery apps, carpooling and public transport, there are other ways to go shopping and get to work; a person could even potentially work from home for a while, depending on their job.

When All Else Fails, Send Them to HR:

As a manager, your capacity is limited when employees face personal issues. Your primary role is to offer support rather than advice or solutions. Providing the latter can lead to problems if they don’t work out.

When support is not enough, send the employee to HR. The Human Resources department will be able to enact various policies and procedures around therapy, trauma counselling, healthcare, setting the employee up for temporary work-from-home, or even lending them a company car while theirs is unavailable.

The same can be said for personal relationships. As well-intentioned as your attempts at helping might be, unless you are a qualified therapist or coach, it may be best to send the person to someone with the appropriate qualifications.

Those are the three measures you can take to assist an employee going through something in their personal life. Firstly, hear them out; secondly, ask them the Three Ps; and thirdly, if the problem persists, send them to someone with the right qualifications and resources to help them.