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Handle personal issues carefully

WHEN the performance of a good worker deteriorates for no apparent reason, there is a good chance that the employee has a personal problem weighing heavily on their mind. There are many factors that affect a person’s job performance, but off-the-job problems are more often the cause of poor work performance than many managers realise. These are problems related to some event occurring in their personal life, such as death or illness in the family, divorce or the break-up of a relationship, problems with their children, financial difficulties, etc. What a person does in their private life is, of course their concern, but if it starts to affect their performance at work, it becomes the manager’s concern. Some action is required on the part of the manager, but this needs to be handled carefully and with sensitivity. Your major purpose is not to provide a solution – it is highly unlikely that you can. Your main aim is to let the person know that she or he can talk to you about it if they want to and that you will listen and act as a sounding board. As professional counsellors will tell you, just letting a person ‘get it off their chest’ helps them feel much better about their problem. Time to put on your ‘counsellor’ hat. Be wary of imposing your solution on their problem; be prepared to do more listening than talking. Demonstrate that you really are listening by paraphrasing things they say and acknowledging how they might be feeling and how you would feel in the same circumstances. Begin by acknowledging their previous good performance. Let them know that you value them as a person and as a worker. Tell them that you have noticed a change in their behaviour. Describe the specific changes. Describe how you see these changes affecting their work and the work of others. Ask them how they feel they are currently handling their job. Reach agreement on your view and their view of their job performance. Check if there are any problems at work that are affecting them. Tell them that their private life is their business, but when it starts to affect their work, it has to become your business. Assure them that anything you discuss will be kept strictly confidential and that no record of this conversation will be kept. Reassure them that everyone has personal problems that affect us at some time or other. If possible, cite an example of something you had to deal with which really got you down. Encourage them to open up and discuss what it is that is distracting them. Ask them if they need some time off to deal with the problem. Ask them if they need help in dealing with their problem. Ask them if they would like to ‘brainstorm’ some actions they could take to help resolve their problem. Help them develop an action plan. Let them know that you will be supportive and that you can make allowances, but that their job performance needs to return to normal. Suggest appropriate professional counselling, such as Lifeline. Suggest that you meet again in a week’s time to see how things are. Invite them to talk to you about it at any time.

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