Managing People: Don’t become a therapist (Part 2)

Geek 5, Managing people

In the last post, we looked at why it is important not to become a therapist for your direct reports.  Here are some common scenarios you could run into and recommended responses.

1.  Medical concerns

 Some people have legitimate medical concerns and others just like to gripe about every ache and pain.  For the first case, your associate should inform you about any medical concerns that could impact attendance or requires special arrangements.   Don’t ask too many questions unless the information is offered.  If the associate is asking for accommodation (ADA) or time off (FMLA or disability leave), it is time to get HR involved. 

If the associate confesses to a problem (like addiction) and needs help, you should refer them to your company’s Employee Assistance Program (EAP).  Even in the case of someone with a genuine medical concern, your conversations should not be too personal or get too frequent. 

The second case involves an associate who like to gripe and there is not a significant issue.  In these cases I recommend trying to redirect his or her attention to more positive, work-related subjects.  If that fails, then be more direct about stopping the griping.  It is not a good use of your time to listen to personal gripes.  You should also determine if the associate is burdening team members with the same information.  I’ve been amazed at some of the cubical conversations that I have heard – and that everyone around the area has heard!  I’ve heard details about afflictions, symptoms, operations and pus and sores – just plain gross!  Put a stop to it if it is happening.  A coaching conversation about professionalism in the office could be a big help.  You will be a hero to the burdened co-workers who have been distracted by the medical talk.

2.  Family problems

 We all have lives outside of work and sometimes those lives creep into our workplace.  You’ve got your run-of-the-mill concerns with soccer games and doctor appointments and family emergencies.  The thing to watch out for are the situations that turn into epic family dramas.  We all know people who thrive on drama.  They seem to make a series of bad decisions and then despair when things go wrong.  They can never seem to get out of the destructive situation and get back on track.  These can range from unhealthy personal relationships to serious financial issues to trying to save someone else (kid, sibling, friend) from themselves.  These cases become a problem when the associate wants to to lean on you for emotional support or wants you to help or expects you to overlook absences, poor performance and distractions. 

You can listen in order to understand the situation.  But, ultimately, the associate needs to handle the personal drama while maintaining solid work performance.  If the problems are big and the associate wants help, your EAP is a good option.  EAPs usually offer counseling (personal, marital, financial, etc.) and emergency interventions.  If an associate is not getting work done. you need to set expectations very clearly and then hold him or her to the expectations.  Don’t feed the drama and become co-dependent.  Hold the associate accountable for work.

One quick note – especially related to family issues.  We live in troubled times and the level of workplace violence has escalated.  In many of these cases, a family member brings a gun to the workplace and causes havoc.  If you have any concerns about violence from the associate or from a family member, you must get HR and your security team involved.  That is one of your obligations as a leader.  Welcome to the big leagues.

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