Why organisations should be attentive to their employees’ personal problems

A death, a divorce, financial difficulties... as an employer, you may not want to pry into your employees’ private issues. However, difficult situations at home may also have a negative impact at work. How can organisations deal with this issue responsibly and respectfully?

In general, employers prefer not to meddle in the private lives of their employees. They respect their privacy or are embarrassed to ask about their home situation. Understandably. Yet, by not intervening they miss important opportunities to help their employees if these find themselves under great mental stress caused by personal circumstances.

One and the same world

Work and private life are not separate worlds: what happens at home has an impact on work, and vice versa. That a burn-out is by definition the result of the work situation and that depression is rooted in personal circumstances is a misconception. Nothing further from the truth in fact. Burn-out is an energy disorder, which can be the result of work overload or a hectic life outside work, or both.

One thing is certain: even if your employee is having difficulties on the home front, you can provide valuable support as a manager.

Let’s take an example: Ann is involved in a messy divorce. As a result, she isn’t getting much sleep, is quick to take offence and less alert at work. Her private relationship has nothing to do with her job, yet clearly impacts her performance. Her manager therefore refers her to the confidential advisor, and offers practical help: Ann can go home a little earlier to talk to a lawyer and get an advance on her salary to cover her legal costs.

Avoid absenteeism

By paying attention to the impact of private issues on your employees:

  • you understand better the mental health issues faced by your employees, at home and at work, and learn how to handle them better as a result;
  • you stop situations from escalating and reduce absenteeism;
  • employees feel supported and understood;
  • you demonstrate that you are concerned about the well-being of your employees.

How can you help employees experiencing personal issues?

  1. As the manager, keep your eyes, ears and doors open
    You play a crucial role in the way mental health issues are tackled in the workplace. In the first place, you need to keep your eyes and ears open to detect issues in time. Ideally, your door should also be open to employees who need to talk and they should know that they can come to you.

    Not everyone feels they can talk about their problems. At the beginning of each conversation, you therefore need to emphasise that it is a good thing that the employee has come to you and that what he or she tells you will be held in the strictest confidence. For advice on how to successfully handle such a conversation, please read our e-book.

    If you don’t know the employee in question well enough to break the ice or if he or she rejects your attempts at talking, you may want to involve someone who is closer to the employee. The HR manager, confidential advisor or a colleague can also check how things are going.
  2. Remove practical worries
    After an open, unbiased chat, you and your employee will look at what you can do for him or her from your angle. Take away some of their worry by, for example, arranging a lift home, notifying neighbours, or allowing him or her to finish work earlier. Removing practical worries temporarily helps give your employee the necessary breathing space.
  3. Know your limits: if necessary refer to family and friends or specialists
    Being open to your employees’ difficulties does not mean that you have to know all the details or have to solve their problems in person. It’s up to you to decide the extent of your involvement in their private lives and how you wish to support them in this respect. If you don’t feel it is your place to intervene, you should refer your employee to someone who can.

    Start by checking if the employee has a support network: can he or she fall back on friends and family? Is there someone who can take him or her in their home?

    If the employee does not have any such network, or if his or her issues are very serious, you should avise him or her to seek professional help. This can be the occupational physician, but also the Mensura psychosocial prevention advisor. Having a list of nearby doctors and care providers is helpful when you need to refer your people to the most suitable person. 
  4. Leave nothing to chance: make sure you have well-known procedures in place internally
    The approach described in points 2 and 3 should not be improvised. If you lay down in procedures which actions to take in which situation and assign responsibilities for these actions, you leave nothing to chance. Make sure everyone with a management position in your company knows the procedures or knows where to find them when needed.

    To find out how to draw up such procedures, please read our e-book.
  5. Provide (informal) follow-up
    Don’t forget to ask the employee afterwards which steps have been taken to help resolve issues. In doing so, you remain informed of the situation while showing interest, which he or she will really appreciate.

Implement psychosocial prevention and protection at work

Mensura can help you tackle psychosocial risks in the workplace. You can contact us if you need a psychosocial risk analysis, advice, counselling provided by psychologists, training and more. Feel free to contact us.

Read all blog posts about ‘mentally fit’.