How to help a valued employee through a tough time

Apr 19, 2013
How to help a valued employee through a tough time

When a good employee has a personal problem, it can affect a small business. But there are ways to help such workers, and doing so not only benefits them but the company’s overall operations as well. And while business is business, employers should understand that work is just one small part of a person’s life.

“It is important that employers recognize that outside the workplace, there are life events that can affect employees’ productivity,” said Wayne Ewing, director of human resources at BOSH Global Services in Newport News, which employs about 100 people. “There are medical events, personal ones such as divorce, some that are so bothersome it can make the employee not productive.”

Anne-Lise Gere, independent HR consultant at Gere Consulting Associates in Newport News, said sometimes tragedy strikes suddenly, such as a severe car accident. However, in many cases the manager should be aware an upsetting situation is on the horizon before it hits hard.

Employers who maintain a good relationship with employees can sense when a bad situation is about to get worse. “I am not saying a manager should be in their employees’ business, but for instance if the employee has an aging parent with health issues, the manager should see something like a request for time off to take care of the parent coming,” she said. “It is good to be proactive and show interest. That helps the business prepare.”

The good employer/employee relationship allows for the employer to “get ahead of the situation and even put a plan in place for when the employee might need time away from work,” she said.

Planning includes working with other employees to handle a coworker’s regular tasks as well as possibly seeking help from a temporary staffing agency. “If a business does not currently work with a temporary staffing agency, they need time to enlist one,” she said. Flexibility is important. When possible, allowing the employee to work from home can help, Gere said.

Monarch Bank, which has about 250 local employees, makes laptops and iPhones available to those who need such technology, said Mary Anderson, senior vice president of human resources.

Last September, a Monarch employee had a sister battling cancer in Florida, Anderson said. With the laptop and iPhone the employee was able to care for her sister in her dying days and still do some job-related tasks. Doing some work away from the office allowed the employee to take less time off and create some sense of normalcy in her life.

“Many times people feel out of control in a situation such as this, but being able to work a bit, such as answer emails, allows them to feel they can control something. And they are not overwhelmed with work to catch up on when they do return,” Anderson said.

Ewing said it is important to ask the employee how they want to handle the situation and then work with them from there. When coming up with a flexible work plan, Gere recommended the manager clearly state expectations.

However, Gere acknowledges that telecommuting is not always possible.

“In such cases as a retail business, it is not possible, but perhaps working with them on various hours is an option,” Gere said.

While collaborating with the employee is good, Gere warned that a manager should be aware when an employee might be taking advantage of a situation.

“There is a difference between being understanding and being permissive,” she said.

To help the employee, Ewing recommended using employee assistance programs available through the company health insurance. Anderson said Monarch employees do not have to subscribe to the company’s health insurance program to take advantage of it; it is open to all Monarch Bank employees.

From the customer side, Tom Flake, director at Peninsula Technology Incubator in Hampton, said having a good relationship with the customer allows for them to be understanding of the situation. “If there is a good relationship with the customer from day one, then the customer is more likely to understand if a key employee working on their project has a situation such as their spouse becomes very sick,” Flake said. “But if there have been problems in the past with delivery of a service or product, then they are less likely to be tolerant of the situation.”

There are ways to prevent some issues from arising. Gere said promoting a healthy lifestyle in the workplace can help employees from having such diseases as diabetes, heart disease, high blood pressure and cancer.

Did you know?
Employee assistance programs benefit everyone in the workplace, according to a 2009 report from the Employee Assistance Trade Association. Employers who offer EAPs report lower absenteeism rates, higher productivity levels and reduced expenses from medical, disability and workers compensation claims. Also, the typical ROI is at least $3 for every $1 invested in an EAP. For more information, visit the association's website.