Problem Management
Personal Problems at Work

Problem Management: what is the best way to deal with staff members who are always bringing personal problems to work and being upset?

Most of us are compassionate – it’s part of human nature. As a result, we are often tempted to try and solve an employee’s personal problems. Unfortunately, this is the worst thing you can do in a work environment.

By “worst thing”, I mean trying to solve the actual problem for them. Help them to solve the problem themselves, by all means. Do not, however, try to do it for them.

Separating it Out

There are two very different environments involved in problem management and you need to keep a clear-cut differentiation between then:

  1. The work environment.
  2. The employee’s personal life.

Of course, they do overlap, but you need to view them separately.

If an employee has a personal problem, that’s one thing. If it is affecting their performance in the work environment, that’s where you need to get interested.

And, if it is also upsetting other staff in your team, you need to get very interested indeed.

You definitely have a vested interest in fixing this. But, from a problem management point of view, just make sure that you understand what problem you need to fix!

Your employee has a personal problem. You, however, have a different problem. Your problem is that your employee’s personal problem is impacting production. That’s the problem you need to fix.

Fixing the Problem

Bear in mind that, from a performance management point of view, you are fixing the work environment problem that consists of your employee having a personal problem.

The start point is to listen to what they are willing to tell you about their problem. Don’t try to probe; just take what they are willing to offer.

And, most important of all, do not offer any agreement, disagreement or solutions! Simply listen, and then let them know that you understand what they told you; no more than that.

The next thing to do is to point out the obvious; that the situation is affecting their work.

  • Tell them you would like to help them solve this (the fact that it is affecting their work).
  • Ask them if they have any ideas on how to accomplish this. Discuss what could be done, including the employee taking time off to handle their personal life.

Sometimes, in problem management, simply listening to an employee describe their situation will be enough. The fact that they have shared it with you will occasionally allow the employee to put it into perspective.

They can then focus on their job more easily and the personal problem stops affecting their ability to work. Your problem is solved at this point.

Other times, the personal situation is so serious that the employee is simply not able to cope. Giving them some time off to get their act together may be the only solution here.

The main thing to remember is that, in problem management, you are not solving the personal problem of the employee; you are solving your problem of the situation impacting on production. See Employee Dismissal if you end up with a totally non-productive employee.

You are not a psychologist or a marriage counsellor, so stay out of it.


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