There is a pivot point we all need to find between being too caring or too cold when employees have personal issues. Women, hard-wired to be compassionate and consider others first, often get stuck in the caring rather than cold region.
Here is an example: Roberta, a valued administrative assistant who does great work and is dedicated to her company had an emotional melt down. Her husband, out of work for the past ten months, hit her in the throes of an argument. She called in sick because she did not want anyone to see her bruises.
The next day she calls her female boss for advice. They have a close relationship and the boss hears the details of the argument. It is impossible not to side with her, at least at first. Roberta has an ally and takes the rest of the week off as paid sick leave. She calls her boss for advice at least twice a day.
The red warning sign is up. This is becoming enmeshed and there is potential for the help and caring to back- fire. And it does! Once the boss begins to pull away, suggests the company EAP or at least talking with HR, Roberta sees she is losing her confidant. She looks elsewhere in the department and finds several others who pick up the slack. Roberta’s “abuse” is becoming a rallying point and the boss, it is said, has turned to the dark side.
When Roberta returns to work the following week she again attempts to pull her boss into the emotional drama. It works for several more days and again, when the boss pulls away there is a sense of betrayal, mutterings of those dreaded words; this is a “hostile work environment”.
Here are some guidelines to help navigate the narrow area of over caring versus uncaring:
• Be gravity: share your concerns using “I statements”. Here is an example, “I am here to help and while I cannot do anything about your personal issues, your performance is my business. Help me understand how we can make changes that will support what you are going through”
• Be compassionate: make sure not to list all problems, this is not a performance review, listen for solutions.
• Be hopeful: offering hope is what you can do and this comes about by asking open-ended questions that will stimulate new possibilities for resolving a tough situation.
• Be multilateral: do not take sides by encouraging the exploration of the other points of view that have led up to the present situation.
• Be clear: develop a plan moving forward that does not include you as a primary resource and has a set of conditions and time line agreements.
It is not your job to diagnose or treat. Yet, when employees are reticent about seeking outside intervention you can ask open ended questions that will help them feel strong enough to take action. Questions like: “What do you want as a long term outcome, how can you begin a new conversation, what will be the consequences if you do not get help, how do you think your inaction will impact your home life, your work life?”
When Roberta’s boss called me, we put this type of action plan into play. Roberta found a therapist and is presently considering reuniting with her husband. At work she has returned to her excellent work status. What is most interesting is her renewed and deepened appreciation for her boss. She has apologized for spreading the toxic hostile work gossip and more mature relationships with appropriate boundaries are developing throughout the entire team.
Removing one from the “helper” role and aiding your employee to take an appropriate course of action is crucial. Fear, shame, and a sense of betrayal keep people stuck in non action. It is in your best interest to be a resource. Most of the time being the balance point will work and change can occur. Yet, please remember not to over give. “Work is not a rehab facility”!