What should we do when an employee’s personal problems affect job performance, mood and behavior at work?

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Employees' personal lives can affect their ability to do their jobs and interact with co-workers, supervisors and clients. Even when employees have serious personal issues to deal with at home, they still must meet performance expectations and act professionally. However, employers can be supportive and understanding while enforcing performance and conduct standards at work.

When addressing an employee whose personal problems are affecting his or her work performance, give specific examples of unacceptable behavior and make clear the employer's expectations for improvement. Bringing these matters to the employee's attention in a concerned manner will likely allow the individual to realize how personal issues are negatively affecting working relationships and job performance. One meeting may be enough to resolve the problem, but, depending on the situation, an employer may want to consider other options:

  • For severe situations, the employer may suggest that the employee voluntarily take advantage of the employee assistance program (EAP) or simply remind the employee of the service by providing EAP's contact information. Using this service would allow the employee an opportunity to disclose personal issues to a professional and obtain a referral as needed for additional counseling.
  • An employee whose personal issues consume him or her at work may be physically in the office but spending all of his or her time dealing with personal problems rather than performing the job. It may be appropriate to offer such an employee time off work—in the form of vacation or unpaid personal leave—to deal with the issues so that the employee can come back to work more focused. When employees or their family members are experiencing a physical or mental health issue, job protected leave, such as FMLA, may apply. 
  • An employee who is overwhelmed with emotional issues at home may have trouble prioritizing and staying focused at work. The employee may need extra assistance setting priorities, staying on task and dealing with roadblocks. Allowing time for the employee to vent about issues constructively with a supervisor may be helpful.
  • Mental health issues that affect personal behaviors may invoke the protections of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). Communicating with others and even thinking and concentrating are considered "major life activities" under the ADA. If an employee is experiencing challenges in these areas, the employer may have an obligation to engage in the ADA interactive process by asking the employee how the company could help him or her meet the essential functions of the job.
  • A performance improvement plan can outline areas for improvement and the employer's performance expectations. For a step-by-step guide and sample format, see How to Establish a Performance Improvement Plan.

Employers should be concerned with the stress levels of employees, as stress has a serious impact on worker productivity. Careful planning and empathy in dealing with employees whose personal problems affect their work performance are useful tools that managers should have in their toolboxes. 

 

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