Personal Personnel

A reader writes…

One of my direct reports brings all of her personal issues to work. Specifically, she’s been very open with me about problems she’s having with her spouse.  I feel empathetic (and appreciate the fact that she’s comfortable telling me things).  At the same time, however, I’m her boss and am (honestly) more concerned about the fact that deadlines are slipping and work isn’t getting done.  I’m to the point I want to let her go… but feel a little guilty (knowing everything she has going on in her personal life).   What would you do, Anita?

Dear, “Boss,”

Having an open relationship with your staff is key to bonding, establishing rapport, and just plain getting to know the people on your team.  Over time, most people tend to reveal personal matters with co-workers (and even direct supervisors); it helps us feel connected… human.

When personal drama becomes overbearing in the workplace, however, a line must be drawn. You, as the boss, must clearly establish the fact that it’s one thing to share personal info (if desired)… but it must NOT compromise your performance on the job.  I, personally, have a very low tolerance for missed deadlines – and I’ve made that very clear with my team over the years.  Certainly things come up… but to give someone the “get out of jail for free card” simply because they can’t keep it together at work is not a good idea.  In other words, you can’t continue to make exceptions for one employee. I’ve been in a similar situation before.  One of my employees had a sister who had been hospitalized, he was up all night dealing with girlfriend issues, and to boot… he was struggling with payments.  I felt sorry for the guy and tried to be supportive.  After weeks of absences, poor work quality, and his sloppy demeanor around the office, I had to pull the plug.  As much as I wanted to say, “I know you’re going through a tough time right now and hate to complicate things even more….,”  I didn’t.

Instead, I brought him into my office, closed the door, and based the entire discussion on the job at hand.  I had plenty of reasons to justify the termination.  I knew this would only make matters worse for him – but as cruel as it sounds… business is business, and if you can’t perform your job and meet expectations, you’re out.

I think you should set all guilt aside and go with your gut.  You are ultimately accountable for your team and should have all “A” players.  Anyone that cannot carry their weight (regardless of their personal situation) needs to be shown the door.

P.S. Always remember as you have personal discussions with your employees that YOU are the boss. You should neither solicit personal information from your staff members nor reveal too much of your own personal information. You have a responsibility to keep the discussion appropriate and you want to make sure you don’t open yourself up to any liability of the former employee claiming you sought non-work-related information as a basis for your termination.

Readers, does this seem shrewd?  Or do you disagree with my advice to “Boss?”
Do tell…!

19 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. autospace
    Sep 25, 2011 @ 17:43:48

    Ido totally agreed with you’ll area of work supervising is piece of cake working-class but picking heavier boxes in our daylybasis or generallabor or construction work under none benefits or insurance policies given away our life for A Peace of sheet supervisors increasing they’re income around the year busting our ass working that It’s totally shaking peoples butt that’s why companies are full of people from select staffing, selecremedy ,Midwest, most valuable person and not to mention others that have been busting my Mexican ass working-class for the minimum wage seventeen years without rights of the good well-being American people way-out of leaving better


  2. m.capriola
    Sep 14, 2011 @ 08:34:44

    My condolences to Ann Padget and her son.

    It’s natural to worry, in fact that’s what parents are supposed to do — it’s part of the job description. But if it is interferring with your work you may want to take time off to concentrate on your son.


  3. anitaclew
    Aug 16, 2011 @ 08:58:30

    Hello Readers,

    I see this post has created quite a stir… and I truly appreciate those of you who took the time to post a comment. In re-reading my own words, I have to agree that my advice on this one did seem a bit harsh. Based on the way I shared my story, it looks like I dragged my former employee into my office (without warning) and gave him the pink slip. Truth be told, a lot more went into the situation. He had been given numerous verbal warnings, we discussed his productivity levels and commitment to the job during a performance review, and by the time the actual termination took place… the writing had been on the wall.

    I whole-heartedly agree that employees deserve a chance. Things come up in life that unexpectedly throw us off course and impact everything from relationships, marriages, and careers.

    My main message and advice to “Boss,” was (and still is) to implement fair policies, be consistent, communicate expectations, and ensure that the work in which you are ultimately held accountable for as a manager is getting done. Being supportive of your employees is absolutely essential. I encourage open communication, regularly scheduled meetings, performance reviews, documentation, and I would always advise managers and supervisors to offer their staff the resources and tools they need to get through difficult situations. The key is, however, you yourself are likely not a therapist, or counselor, and you sure as heck are not being paid to be a “babysitter.” Managers have a job to do, and the performance of their staff members is a direct reflection on them.

    I hope this helps clarify the intent of my post and would love to hear any additional feedback!


    • Ann Padgett
      Sep 12, 2011 @ 12:22:37

      My son was injured in Afghanistan and he has been in the hospital since 10/18/10. I come to work and try very hard to stay focused but with a son that was blinded and disfigured from war it is most difficult. My boss was very understanding at first and we were close about discussing it, He still asks about him but expects me to ingnore the situation while at work, well I am sorry that is impossible. This comes from a man that has never been married, no children, no family. So I don’t expect him to understand the love of a parent for their chlid. My opinion on your idea of how to handle a worker who is going thru a rough time……..Hope I hear how you are doing when something terrible happens to you or someone you love.


  4. Joe Glowiak
    Aug 15, 2011 @ 11:59:30

    William Smith, your comment was off-topic and not appreciated. Please feel free to unsubscribe the next time you receive an email (you will see a link at the bottom of the message).


  5. m.capriola
    Aug 15, 2011 @ 07:11:22

    I agree in essence with Anita, but suggest a more humane approach to let the employee know that the situation cannot continue.

    Sit down with her for a performance review. Point out the missed deadlines and such and that this cannot continue. The new policy (if it is not already in effect) is verbal warning the first time, a written warning for the second offense, pinkslip the third time. “Consider this meeting the verbal warning.”

    I would be interested in feedback from Anita on this suggestion. :)


  6. Oscar
    Aug 11, 2011 @ 16:18:19

    This manager should firs research some organizations that can help the employee deal with the issues.Then talk to her as a friend and point out your concerns about all the performance issues. Share with her the organizations that you found out can help her.
    If the performance issues continue, then from that point on, all meetings should be documented and appropiate warning should be issue. After 3 written warnings, then termination would be appropiate. Keep in mind that, a truly great leader, always take full reponsibility for any and all issues related to their subordinates

    I am very disappointed at Anita reply. I thought she was more knowledgeable. And by knowledgeable I mean that business is only one aspect of the true value of a company. Employees are the true value, if they are nurture properly.

    PS: Anita, please remove my name from all your mailings I do not wish to be contacted by you anymore. Thank you.


    • anitaclew
      Aug 11, 2011 @ 16:52:24

      I am sorry to have disappointed you, Oscar, and am sad to see you go. Please feel free to unsubscribe the next time you receive an email (you will see a link at the bottom of the message).


      • Joe Glowiak
        Aug 15, 2011 @ 11:39:45

        Oscar, your reaction was confusing. I wouldn’t want you to work for my company or be one of my coworkers. Anita is right on target.


    • Josh
      Aug 12, 2011 @ 11:45:16

      You are not your neighbor’s keeper. You are not their psychologist, psychiatrist, or counselor in any way. You are their employer, immediate manager, or supervisor. People that bring their personal problems to work should understand that the world does not revolve around them. That because their personal life is currently on a down-slope, their performance at work should not suffer. Also that they shouldn’t burden others with their problems. Having friends or friendly co-workers at work is fine, but the troubled person should know the limit of how much they should share their problems and how much they should show that they even have problems in the first place.
      I think Anita was a bit rash on her decision to terminate the employee, but as she explained, it clearly wasn’t a sudden decision. He wasn’t showing up to work, and when he did, it seems he might as well have stayed home. I suppose Anita could have given him some forewarning, but he should have had the sense to know what would happen if he was beginning to slip at work, some foresight.
      Overall, I totally respect and support the decision she made. Anyone who thinks that they should spend all their time unrelentingly helping other people should think deeply about how much time they’d have for accomplishing things for themselves. It seems irrationality has overtaken the world, rationality is our only defense against it.


  7. theunicornlady
    Aug 10, 2011 @ 18:19:17

    Problem solving questions 101.

    When was it OK?

    Big difference when a great employee has a personal problem and needs to have a temporary reduction in work load, and when a problem employee keeps making excuses from Day 1 about how things will get better when there never ending personal problems clear up.

    Initial document talk could go something like this. (document this to prepare for an eventual firing). PS there are people who like to work just enough time to get qualified for unemployment benefits and then get let go – so try to eliminate problem employees before 90 days.

    A sample discussion might go…

    You do A well and B well and it is necessary that you find a way to meet deadlines or let me know as far as possible in advance that they will not be met so work can be reassigned. This is necessary because of the following impacts….

    What do you think would help – – and then listen. You might find that you have been setting unrealistic deadlines. That her computer system takes 1/2 hour to reboot three times a day. Or that she would like to be able to tell her troublesome spouse that there is a no personal phone call policy at work. Or she might admit she is under-qualified and over whelmed and would like a transfer to a less important position with a corresponding pay cut.

    Document the action plan…


  8. Carol McClellan
    Aug 10, 2011 @ 07:12:30

    I feel it was very correct. If she doesn’t do something like that about the situation, she’s going to lose either/both her job or the customers who go away because everything’s delayed.


  9. dawn farley
    Aug 09, 2011 @ 15:47:34

    I think firing them seems a little extreme. of course not knowing if they have had previous problems with their work.A simple talk would go far to help these employees. set them down and say hey look i know you are having problems at home and i sympathize with you . but we have a job to do and we can’t have your home life interfere. so this is your chance to get it together or hit the bricks. give them the opportunity to straighten up . it just seems that the employer enjoyed making the employees life more miserable. how about sending them to counseling some hmo and pmo have a program for this type of help.
    is it not also a moral obligation to help these people .? especially since these people will not be able to get gainful employment now. so we are now dooming these people to lose what passes as a life of homelessness or worse yet suicide.
    that’s helpful for everyone , isn’t it?


  10. Theron Tacker
    Aug 09, 2011 @ 13:56:59

    Instead of firing the employee, you could consider talking with them and placing them on a Performance Improvement Plan. Set mutually agreed upon goals they will work to meet each week (deadlines, quota’s ect.) Stick to your plan and meet with them once per week and track their progress. By doing this, you could save the employee and yourself money in unemployment claims.


  11. Ted
    Aug 09, 2011 @ 12:13:27

    I have seen this same situation in my city. It is a good question as to how they can stay open and yet they tell you they have no work. Some will even tell you the opposite as “We have these jobs posted on our website and just come and apply to them”. So you go in and fill out all the paperwork and give them X amount of references, take there computerized Tests. Then Silence, you hear nothing back from them. One thing that is true that they are telling you, there is not alot of work out there and they are at the mercy of companies hoping and praying that they will be given sometime type of jobs to fill.

    How do they stay open? A few ways this could happen: They may have an existing account and they are just getting by on that. The agency may be owned by another company or someone who has other business interest and is keeping them afloat. If the agency is part of a chain, then they may be getting subsidize by other ones that may have more business. If they are a single entity, they may be working on a reduced budget. Agencies do have a big turn over rate. People will come and go. You may be talking to someone and then all of a sudden they are not there anymore. There could be many reasons for this. I remember a time about 4 years ago when you could walked in get signed up and you would get a call to do work within a week after visiting them.

    Here is one thing you may want to try. Contact the various employers in your area and give them your resume. Even if they take it and never get back to you. Also mention to them that you would be willing to do temp work for them and give you a call if the occasion should arise.

    I actually did this last January. One agency had posted work that I was qualified for. They took all my info and did nothing for me. After a month of that I went to the various companies and marketed myself and said I would also to temp work for them. About a month after that one company called and said they had some work that they would like to me to do for them on a temporary assignment and they had an agency that they used explicitly(not the same one that I was dealing with). They had their agency call me and set up the temp work.

    Try to get to know some of the people at a given agency you know like ask them if you can water their plants do cleaning in their office, etc.

    I hope this helps.


  12. zamaria
    Aug 09, 2011 @ 10:34:35

    i believe that you should listen to her and refere her to her church pastor for counseiling and then shortly after tell her the concerns you have in a nice and respectable way and i believe you all willl get the job done and on top of that you all will know eachother better


  13. Cat
    Aug 09, 2011 @ 09:46:27

    I believe there is a thick line that needs to be drawn between authority figures and subordinates. When a boss gets too personal with you or others, or even when they allow you or others to get too personal with THEM… it becomes difficult to take them seriously as an authority figure. Boss or Friend. Never both, pick a team. I’ve come across many people who seemingly never bothered to get to know THEMSELVES before picking their career of choice. Quite a few folks I have worked for didn’t seem to have the right character or maturity level for the job.

    If you are person who is uncomfortable with the idea of being disliked, you should probably seek your successes outside of management. You don’t have to be someone’s “boss” to make decent money or even to have respect. I do not have what it takes to be an authority figure to adults, some may see it as a babysitter to adults. Really, you could look at it both ways. Although I don’t feel a strong need to be liked by everyone, I couldn’t bring myself to fire people; yes, even if they deserve it for being annoyingly incompetent.

    You don’t have to make friends with your workers. Few people have what it takes, as employees, to truly respect a boss who offers fair treatment with no favoritism though. I think what the employee in question is doing is making an attempt to “kiss butt”, hoping she will receive some form of favor by making things personal. The inappropriateness is on the employee’s end here. The boss probably should have put a stop to the personal chatter early on though. As a person who is always on the subordinate end of things at work, I have noticed that a lot of lowly workers try their hardest to hit a soft, personal spot with the boss early on in a desperate attempt to cover up their incompetency. People believe that if you make nice and gain favor, that will make up for what they don’t know about their job. It works pretty often as I’ve seen.

    If you don’t want people pissed off at you a lot and you come to work as much to make friends as to make money, you should think outside the box when it comes to making more money and stay away from the boss jobs. Try working with animals. No spite, no jealousy, no talking.


  14. William Smith
    Aug 09, 2011 @ 08:17:37

    Why is there 15 to 20 temp agencies in the city of Reading Pa and no jobs? What is keeping these agencies open if there’s no jobs? I have contacted all of them and they tell me there’s no work. Please explain this bs!


    • m.capriola
      Aug 15, 2011 @ 07:15:51

      That’s a shocker. What is keeping them in business? I imagine they get fees from the people they do place, so maybe these companies are just tredding water right now. Check back in six or twelve months and see how many of these agencies are still in business.


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Anita Clew's blog posts are intended for general guidance and should never be taken as legal advice. In all instances where harassment, inequity, or unfair treatment is believed to be present, please consult your HR Department or legal representation.
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