How To Manage Employees Who Are Going Through a Difficult Period

Umer Mansoor Umer Mansoor Follow Jan 02, 2022 · 4 mins read

Managing a team member who’s going through a difficult period is challenging scenario for any manager. It is not as uncommon as one might think. Major life events like death of a family member, prolonged illness of a child or spouse, separation or divorce, etc. are very stressful situations for almost everyone. Some might do a better job than others keeping their work and personal lives separate, but it is not uncommon for these these major life events to creep in and start affecting work performance of even top performers

So what can managers to do when one of their reports is going through a difficult period and it is affecting their ability to do their work? Two things are key here:

  1. You have to show compassion and help the employee,
  2. You are also responsible for your team’s productivity and producing results for your company.

Depending on the situation, it can like walking a tightrope. Managers must navigate carefully and come up with a plan. Here are some things managers can do in these situations.

1. Don’t Wait - Early Detection Goes a Long Way

As a manager, you shouldn’t expect your employees to come to you and share that they are going through a stressful period. If they do, great. But good managers must detect early warning signs and start the conversation early. If they start showing up late to meetings consistently, miss deadlines, quality of work goes down, etc. sit down and talk to them.

If you wait too long and don’t take an action, the entire team might suffer or the situation could get so bad that the employee might just directly resign, without ever giving you the opportunity to explore a solution together.

2. Understand the Situation

When you talk, and he or she opens up and shares that they are going through difficult times, the best thing you can do is listen intently and understand the situation as much as possible. Show compassion and care, but avoid being a therapist. Understand if it’s short-term challenge or something that would potentially drag for many months.

3. Don’t Solve Solo. Brainstorm With Your Employee

Many managers when faced with this scenario are tempted to offer time off or flexible hours to their employees. While these are good solutions in many situations, they aren’t always. Instead, brainstorm solutions with your employees. Start the conversation by expressing your support and genuine sympathy and asking the employee what the two of you and the company can do to support them during this difficult period and how to best manager their responsibilities.

May be the employee is working on a challenging project that requires a lot of collaboration and meetings and those are just not feasible at the moment. May be the on call responsibilities are too much for them for the next few weeks. The point is there could be ways to support your employee during personal crisis. It could even a combination of different things: flexible schedule plus independent tasks, as an example.

4. Make a Plan

After brainstorming, make a plan that works for the employee and helps them go through their difficult situation while also meeting modified work expectations. Set realistic goals. Also make sure that the plan is in-line with your company’s HR policies. If you are not sure, review your company policies or if you have a good HRBP, talk to them.

5. Share the Arrangement With the Team

The team usually knows about these situations because chances are they are a part of the solution in some way or other. However, if they don’t, you should let them know about any adjustments that you are making. The team will notice and if they don’t have the context, the team culture might suffer.

I must add that you should respect the employee’s privacy at all times. If they don’t want to share details with the team, then don’t share any details and keep it high level.

6. Follow up

Once you have a plan, follow up with your employee time to time in your 1-1’s or even over Slack, Email. Don’t pry, instead show care, and ask how they are doing, how the plan is working and if any adjustments need to be made.


An employee going through a personal crisis or difficult period can have a serious impact on their and teams’ productivity. Managers should be on the look out for any warning signs. Once the issue is detected, proceed with careful planning and compassion towards the employees who personal problems are affecting their work performance.


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