Personal life is part of work. In fact, you may sometimes feel as if you're managing your employees' personal growth as much as you're trying to grow your company. That is, of course, part of the reason companies form human resources departments.
But whether you have an HR department or are nowhere near having one, you're probably going to have to get involved with your employees' personal lives every once in awhile. Someone who works for you will need advice, struggle with their marriage or battle an illness, and their problems are going to be at least as important to them as getting in a good day's work. Their personal troubles may even take precedence.
You can, of course, institute an all-encompassing rule that doesn't allow for personal problems to ever enter the workplace. But being a dictator may not attract the best and brightest employees, and chances are, you want to help. You simply don't want to hurt your business in the process, which, of course, can hurt everyone.
So what's a business owner to do?
Sharpen your communication.
If you have to set guidelines, like no personal phone calls during work, because your company constantly works with the public, then that's what you do.
Still, when it comes to someone's personal problems, flexibility should rule the day. However you impart those rules and work with your employees, the best employers and managers are often approachable, consider unorthodox solutions with an open mind and avoid being judgmental or critical, according to Liz Bywater, president of Yardley, Pennsylvania-based Bywater Consulting Group, which helps businesses to enhance individual and organization performance.
"Always remember that your employees are people first and foremost," she says.
Being accommodating isn't simply the right thing to do, of course. It can also be a smart thing to do. Your other employees are going to see how you treat people when they're down. Help your employees, and you help your business culture.
—Deborah Sweeney, CEO, MyCorporation.com
"I believe that when employees feel they are supported, they give it their all at work," says Deborah Sweeney, CEO of MyCorporation.com. "They know that it is not just about the money, but the people. We spend a lot of time at work, so it's important that we are happy and respectful, even through tough times."
Outsource your help.
Services also exist to help you with helping your employees.
Steven Rothberg, president and founder of College Recruiter, a job board for college and university students, describes his Minneapolis-based company as a "mom and pop business" with 15 full and part-time employees. He also says that he and his wife, Faith, the CEO, began offering a confidential personal counseling service with their payroll and benefits provider.
The service, Rothberg says, allows their employees to call for assistance "with issues such as debt, mental health, finding a nursing home for a family member, locating quality childcare and more."
Because the service is bundled with the payroll and other benefits, Rothberg estimates the cost at probably a few hundred dollars per employee, per year.
Rothberg adds that he hasn't asked employees if the service has been beneficial. "We don't want anything to dissuade an employee from using [it], including any misconception on their end that we might negatively view their use of the service," he explains.
But one employee did volunteer to Rothberg that she used it for finding help for her elderly mother, and it had saved her a lot of worry.
And reducing your employees' worrying time will hopefully free them up to focus more on their work.
Invest your resources in employees.
Invest a little time and maybe money into helping an employee with his or her personal problems, and you may find you get both back eventually.
Joyce Gioia, president and CEO of The Herman Group, an Austin, Texas-based firm that focuses on workforce and workplace issues, reveals that when her company was smaller and in North Carolina, she had an employee who was terrific at her job, but had health problems that were affecting her work and may have been the reason she was always late to work.
"She had trouble getting up in the morning," Gioia says.
Gioia could have terminated her for repeated tardiness, but the employee, once she came into the office, was typically a strong performer. Gioia changed her employee's hours, having her start at 10 a.m., gave the employee a discounted gym membership and made sure there were salad options when the company served the employees office lunches.
"She was an excellent worker and we didn't want to lose her. Good employees are worth the investment," says Gioia.
The employee lost about 20 pounds, was able to mostly make it into work on time with the tweaked schedule, and continued to be excellent at her work. Gioia claims she never had any regrets about the effort that went into trying to help her.
Change your mindset.
If your employees' personal strife annoys you, maybe the problem isn't with them so much as it is with you, or at least how you think about them.
"We often confront these sorts of 'intrusions,' though they're really not intrusions, they're really just a part of a robust, lived life," says Mark Phillips, who has eight employees and is founder and CEO of HireEducation, Inc., an education tech firm in Boulder, Colorado, and part of Sanford Rose Associates, a network of independently owned executive search firms.
That doesn't mean you ignore it if your employee's work performance is suffering, and you happen to know he or she is going through a rough period. You should still talk to them, Phillips suggests.
But he adds, "We trust that they are doing their best in a tough situation. If we don't trust them, that's probably an indication that they shouldn't be working with us anyway."
And it might also be useful to remember that the personal life interfering with work goes both ways, Rothberg says.
In other words, it may bother you when your employee's personal life causes his or her work to suffer and your profit margins to shrink, but it can work in your company's favor, too, Rothberg points out.
He recalls an employee who was single and fervently wanted to be in a relationship. "He felt lonely and down and that negatively impacted his work performance," Rothberg says.
But then one day, Cupid intervened.
"He started dating someone, felt a lot better about himself and his life, and his work performance improved," Rothberg says. "We had absolutely nothing to do with his dating, but our company did benefit from his relationship."
Read more articles about work-life balance.
A version of this article was originally published on December 9, 2015.