How to Deal With an Employee Who Always Brings Personal Problems to Work

Personal problems can affect an employee's work performance.

Personal problems can affect an employee's work performance.

Stress at work has a nasty way of invading personal lives, and it can easily affect relationships at home. So, it stands to reason that the reverse is also true. People aren’t always able to leave their personal problems at the office door. But, when someone brings her home to work, it doesn’t only change relationships. It can hurt the quality of her performance and the performance of others. It’s up to you as a manager to confront the issue.

Assess your relationship with the employee in question. Employees can take their cues for workplace behavior from their managers, and if a relationship is too personal, you could be sending a message that it's OK to bring personal problems to work. Establish a relationship of trust, honesty and support, while still upholding your expectations for professional workplace behavior, communication and performance.

Talk to the employee and offer a sympathetic ear. But, don’t try to solve the person’s problem — that’s her responsibility. If, for example, she's having marital problems that are affecting her work, it's not your place to advise on how to "fix" her marriage. Just listen to your employee to get a better understanding of the situation.

Give examples of unacceptable behavior during the conversation to add context for the employee. From there, explain your expectations for her professional — “professional” being the operative word — behavior going forward.

Focus on the behavior rather than the employee by sticking with “I” statements. “You” statements can be misconstrued as judgments or attacks. Saying something like, “I need you to…” is often met with less resistance than, “You should stop …”

Refer the employee to the appropriate resources once you understand what’s going on. But, the office is no place to offer personal advice, especially from a manager to an employee, so mum's the word in that area. Instead, suggest the person talk to a human resources representative, a professional counselor or even a friend.

Offer time off — be it paid with vacation or unpaid with personal leave — if the personal problem is severe. Or, suggest a change in assignment for the short term until the personal problem can be resolved.

Tip

  • When talking to an employee, do so privately. The last thing you want to do is escalate the issue by confronting the person in a public setting. If you’re concerned about how the employee will react to the conversation, bring someone from human resources into the meeting.
 

About the Author

Based in Minneapolis, Minn., Dana Severson has been writing marketing materials for small-to-mid-sized businesses since 2005. Prior to this, Severson worked as a manager of business development for a marketing company, developing targeted marketing campaigns for Big G, Betty Crocker and Pillsbury, among others.

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