Can You Handle Our Truth: Tips for Managing The Life & Times of A Chaotic Employee

October 25, 2018

It’s getting hectic in here, it’s getting chaotic…. We’ve all been there. You know that time when our personal lives are simply overwhelming. Be it relationships, kids, or what have you – sometimes life can become chaotic. But what do you do when an employee brings that chaos to the workplace?

Spotting A Chaotic Employee

As a manager, the first thing you’ll have to do is know which signs to look out for to determine if an employee may be entering chaotic territory:

Excess Tardiness/Absenteeism

Often, the first sign that an employee is having a personal issue is when they are consistently late to work or meetings – or do not show up to work at all.

Neglect of Personal Appearance

If an employee starts letting their personal appearance suffer (e.g. poor hygiene, ill-fitting or inappropriate clothing, etc.) it can indicate that an employee is having a hard time dealing with stress in their life.

Changes in Overall Behavior

When a typically stellar employee starts acting out of character, making excessive errors, missing important deadlines, starts taking too many breaks or too much time on the phone, or is less likely to participate in group projects or meetings, a manager should pay close attention. Any or all of these may indicate that your employee is dealing with a difficult personal issue that they have inadvertently brought to work.


Taming the Chaos

The first step to getting a handle on whatever may be affecting your employee is to have an open conversation with them. The Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) advises, “Bringing these matters to the employee’s attention in a concerned manner will likely allow him or her to realize how personal issues are negatively affecting working relationships and job performance.” Here are some tips managers can consider when steering the conversation with a chaotic employee:

Be Compassionate But Fair

A recent article for Harvard Business Review urges managers to be empathetic and compassionate but remain professional during these discussions. If an employee is dealing with an illness or caring for a sick loved one, you may want to offer them leave under the Family Medical Leave Act or explore other options you may have. Managers must also keep in mind how they handle a chaotic employee’s situation and the precedent it will set for other team members when they face similar situations.

Ensure Their Workload Isn’t Part of the Problem

Bensinger, DuPont & Associates COO Marie Apke recommend that managers “Ask what the company itself is doing to contribute to stress on that employee and see what steps you can take to alleviate it.” Managers may consider spreading tasks among team members to alleviate some of the stress on a particular team member if their workload is overwhelming them.

Don’t Pry Into Their Personal Life

Although it may be tempting to get into the details and know what the heck is going on with your employee, you must resist the urge to get too personal. Focus only on the details that are affecting your employee’s work performance. Harvard Professor Linda Hill and author of Being the Boss, cautions, “You want to build a caring relationship with employees, not a friendly relationship.” For example, if you notice an employee is having difficulty concentrating on tasks or is frequently absent, you might say something like, “We are all here to put our best foot forward. I’ve noticed that you seem to be struggling with that lately. If there is something in your personal life affecting you, let’s discuss what we can do to help you get back on track.”

Use Your Resources

If an employee’s personal issues seem severe or more intense, a manager can suggest that an employee take advantage of the company’s Employee Assistance Program or EAP if available. Most employer-sponsored health insurance plans also provide mental health coverage and offer counseling and substance abuse services. Managers may also consider implementing a Performance Improvement Plan (PIP) that outlines key areas of improvement and expectations. The experts at SHRM offer a step-by-step guide on developing a PIP here.

An employee with mental health issues may also qualify for protections under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). According to SHRM, if an employee is experiencing qualifying challenges with “major life activities,” an employer may be obligated to engage in the ADA interactive process by asking the employee how the company can help them meet the essential functions of their job.

Your employees are the lifeblood of your organization, so it is wise to do all you can to help your most valuable performers get back on track if they are facing a difficult time. Plus, everyone loves a good comeback!

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