I manage a fully remote team and have one member who is wonderful—when he is able to focus on work. His contribution is valuable, he is easy to get along with, and other team members depend on his experience and wisdom. But he is always dealing with some kind of personal crisis.
He has had several health challenges, as have his family members. His partner is an ER nurse who is 100% focused when she is at her job, so all the appointments—and childcare—fall on him.
He has multiple pets, all of whom have special needs. He was affected by serious flooding in one of the last big weather events (his car literally floated away) and his home now has black mold in the walls. His remaining parent needs a lot of care. The list goes on and on.
I want to be empathetic, but with the advent of Covid and everyone working from home, I feel like work is last on his list of priorities. He often fails to deliver on deadlines but always has a logical reason. And, to be fair, he is good at managing expectations and communicating when he is not on track with deliverables.
How can I continue to be empathetic while helping him increase his commitment to work?
Boy, does this sound familiar. We managers all seem to have a fantasy in which our employees have partners whose job it is to manage the home, the kids, the pets, and the aging parents. This may have been the norm several decades ago, but most households today are only kept afloat with two full-time jobs. And that only really works when everything goes perfectly—another fantasy world in which no one gets sick, pets don’t age, parents remain completely independent, and fierce hurricanes don’t wash our cars away.
It is one thing to deal with one predicament at a time; quite another to have a laundry list of never-ending crises with no end in sight. Flooding is no joke. It is a traumatic event. I think your employee probably needs to focus on stabilizing before he can increase his commitment to work. It seems that you have a valuable team member who is in a pitched battle to just get through each day, and that it would serve you both to sit down and have a serious discussion about reality.
Perhaps there needs to be a conversation about making a change, at least temporarily, while your employee gets his own health challenges and the disaster recovery activities under control. Here are some ideas to consider:
- Have your employee consider going part-time, or even taking some time off and applying for disability.
- Talk to your HR person and get clear on the company policies related to paid time off, emergency leave, or other benefits that might be applicable in his situation. Ensure he is aware of his rights and options.
- Brainstorm a shift in workload/task assignments.
- Look into your company’s Employee Assistance Program. There may be therapy or coaching available to help your person talk through all of his responsibilities and help him get organized.
- Check into support resources that might be available for dealing with the aftermath of flooding—disaster relief organizations or government agencies that could provide assistance.
It is clear that your employee’s current situation is untenable, and it isn’t fair to either of you to not face the facts. You can remind him how valuable he is to the team, and how much you appreciate his contribution, and that it is your job to help him so he can bring his best.
Be clear, kind, and direct that something has to give or he is on track for increased health problems. Craft a plan together that you both can live with.
Remember to maintain confidentiality about what you come up with, but also share with your team that their teammate is working to manage his circumstances. They must be wondering.
Life can be hard, and sometimes really hard. Do everything you can to support your employee to help him through this particularly hard patch.
Madeleine Homan Blanchard is a master certified coach, author, speaker, and cofounder of Blanchard Coaching Services. Madeleine’s Advice for the Well Intentioned Manager is a regular Saturday feature for a very select group: well intentioned managers. Leadership is hard—and the more you care, the harder it gets. Join us here each week for insight, resources, and conversation.
Got a question for Madeleine? Email Madeleine and look for your response soon. Please be advised that although she will do her best, Madeleine cannot respond to each letter personally. Letters will be edited for clarity and length.