It is the small indications you have noticed the most. They eat alone or go out for lunch. They do not make small talk. Laughter has been replaced by silence and occasionally even an out of character snap back.
You do not know why any of this is happening of course because you have not asked them and well, based on your experience with them, they would be unlikely to tell you anything anyway. It is probably a phase and will all blow over in time. Besides you have a business to run and targets to meet. Messy people issues are for HR to deal with.
Most managers will readily acknowledge the all too common scenario above. There are many variants and degrees of severity but essentially the situation boils down to a key worker having some sort of issue and their performance suffering.
Perhaps you are part of a large organisation and the effects are not huge in relation to the rest of the staff. Perhaps the person in question is in a role which impacts few others in the organisation and has no impact on the customer experience. Perhaps.
However, what if you are a smaller business and that person represents a major percentage of your staff? What if they are your key salesperson or an agent who interacts directly with your customers? What if that person manages a key department and the reduced performance and poor attitude filters down? What if that person is you and you are the CEO? What if indeed.
Even if you set aside or forget the basic human right whereby the employee should be helped to feel better on ethical grounds, try applying an actual pounds and pence costing to the results of the poor performance in terms of wasted wages and lost opportunity. Try a modest five or ten percent reduction and factor this into relevant organisational scenarios in your business and you’ll soon see some uncomfortable figures developing. These numbers represent money you are losing which should really be on your bottom line.
In my experience these issues rarely if ever fix themselves. If things worsen for this person you are looking down the barrel of more disruption, stress related illness, sickness and even the employee leaving altogether; potentially with the all too common legal repercussions which can follow.
People who are wrapped up in a personal issue are generally stuck there. They cannot see a way out because everything looks black. If they could see a solution to a superficial problem there would be no issue in the first place, just an exercise in prioritising and resource marshalling.
People who are stuck need a resource outside of themselves to get unstuck. As a good manager, you are duty bound to take positive steps once you know there is an issue. Some managers are great at being this much-needed resource but sadly they are in the minority. Many managers lack the skills and empathy to address the situation properly and, even though they may have the best of intentions, when they take a, “come on chin-up, it’ll be alright” or a “pull yourself together” approach this can often make the situation worse.
Even talking to someone at work at all can be a no-go area for the person with the issue because whether it is a work-related problem or a personal one there are a host of reasons they may not feel comfortable discussing it. They might not want to risk exposing their perceived weakness or failure any further. Their boss may in fact be the cause of the issue. They may fear a lack of confidentiality, even from an internal company coach or counsellor.
What then is the solution when you have someone who is stuck, suffering and costing your organisation money? You cannot simply ignore them and, unless you are a skilled and experienced coach who has the full trust of their staff, you are unlikely to help them effectively yourself. Internal coaching often doesn’t work due either for a variety of reasons already mentioned.
I would recommend a high-quality external coach be brought in or made available. Now, in the spirit of full disclosure, I may be a little biased here but my bias comes from a place of love. I am a high-quality coach and much of my work centres on this very type of personnel issue. I and other quality coaches provide the mental and emotional space, the deep dive questioning, positively challenging environment and full confidentiality which people need to open up fully and discuss, sometimes for the first time, any and all issues which are holding them back. It can and frequently does work wonders.
When these people get back on track they often bounce back better than ever and the positive ripples can spread far and wide within the organisation. Whichever coach you do choose, make sure the chemistry is right and check that coaching is indeed the best option. A modest outlay in quality coaching at the right time can realise a massive return on your investment and it can add real value to your bottom line.
Don’t ignore those messy people issues. Tackle them early and engage them effectively.
Invest in some high quality external coaching support and you will be amazed.
For me, it's all about helping people to maximise their emotional intelligence and their mental resilience.
I help stressed people get their mojo back.
Check out my popular book "The Resilient Professional"