By: Kim Moshlak on July 28th, 2023

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The Best Way to Give Personal Support to Employees

Best Practices

In the old days, businesses encouraged their workers to keep their personal lives separate from their professional life. If you were having a bad day, your manager expected you to leave your problems at the front door.

These days, employers encourage people to bring their whole selves to work. That includes all the joys, hobbies, and quirks that make us who we are. Also, it can mean the pain and stress of everyday life.

Managers can support people through bad times with a little compassion and understanding. However, what happens when leaders get too involved in personal issues? Where do you draw the line? And what’s the best way to offer employees meaningful personal support?

What kind of support is appropriate?

An issue I’ve encountered on multiple occasions is the manager who struggles because they are “too nice”.

Being nice is a good thing, of course, and great managers know how to connect with their people. But too-nice managers can run into problems like:

  • They support individuals instead of supporting the team
  • Other team members feel that the manager shows favoritism
  • The manager finds it difficult to set expectations and boundaries for struggling employees
  • The employee doesn’t get the chance to grow and learn professionally
  • The manager isn’t trained to offer personal support, and they may not provide appropriate advice

Ultimately, being too nice isn’t being nice at all. It’s bad for the team and could be bad for the employee, who isn’t receiving the professional support they need.

It’s also bad for the manager themself. Supporting people through a personal crisis is very difficult, which is why professional therapists and counselors spend a lot of time on their own self-care. A too-nice manager might find themselves overwhelmed, which can eventually lead to chronic stress and burnout.

Download the guide: 20 Question to Ask Your HR Leader

The best ways to provide employees with personal support

Personal issues can be messy and unpredictable. However, personal support works best when it’s organized and has clear goals. Here are some tips for helping employees through difficult times:

1. Define clear boundaries

Leaders may need some coaching about how to talk to employees without stepping over the line. HR can provide some training about appropriate levels of conversation. For example, if an employee is going through a difficult divorce, try to stay away from questions about the employee’s personal life. Instead, focus on practical questions, like whether they need to schedule time off to meet with their lawyer.

Managers shouldn’t feel bad about laying down clear boundaries. They’re not parents or therapists, so they’re not obliged to engage in every detail of the employee’s personal life. Sometimes, it’s okay to say, “I don’t feel that’s appropriate to discuss at work. Have you considered speaking to a professional about these issues?”

2. Promote the Employee Assistance Program

Many health benefits packages include access to an Employee Assistance Program (EAP) that offers professional support for a variety of issues. EAP supports can include financial advice, legal consultations, family mediation services, and mental health counseling.

Talk to your benefits provider to find out exactly what supports are on offer. Then, promote all of those benefits to the team, providing clear information about how to access the EAP. Employees can then get focused, professional support for their most urgent problems.

3. Encourage managerial referrals

Managers also have the option of referring an employee to a support service. This is helpful when the employee either doesn’t want to reach out or doesn’t know how to get started. If your EAP offers managerial referrals, they will take extra care to make sure that the employee understands that this service is part of their benefits.

Managerial referrals are a useful tool for managers who fall into the “too nice” trap. If they have overstepped personal boundaries, an EAP referral allows them to reset the relationship while also still supporting the employee.

4. Hold employees accountable

In some cases, personal issues might cause employees to fall short of professional expectations, even after you’ve offered support. When this happens, the manager has to sit down with their employee and have a forthright discussion about what’s happening.

Conversations like this are extremely difficult, so it’s a good idea to involve HR. The main topics to discuss are:

  • What’s generally expected from the employee’s role
  • Details of how the employee is failing to meet expectations
  • Support available for the employee
  • Next scheduled checkpoint (e.g., you’ll meet again to review in three months)
  • Make-or-break goals for the employee
  • What happens if the employee fails to meet expectations

Accountability is actually in the employee’s best interest. If their work performance is suffering, it’s likely to have a long-term impact on their work relationships and their career path—and career problems can be a massive source of stress.

By creating clear boundaries and reasonable expectations, you’re helping them to stay on track professionally while also doing what’s best for your team.

Need help with HR?

Personal support for employees is one of the trickiest areas of HR strategy. You need to balance lots of different factors, from employee engagement to organizational culture, and you need to think about regulatory compliance issues that might arise from your people policies. 

That's why it's important to have a knowledgeable HR partner to answer your questions. Talk to the HR experts today--book a call with a Helios HR consultant and let's discuss your team's needs


Download the guide: 20 Question to Ask Your HR Leader