levi body
Photo credit: ©istockphoto.com/Robert Horne


I’m frequently asked: “What should I do about a staff member who has been a good team member in the past but is now struggling at work, possibly because his personal life has hit a giant rock in the road? He’s falling apart at the seams and now it’s causing frequent big-time mistakes on the job. Everyone else is forced to work harder to clean up his messes.”

This is a tough scenario, but one we are all bound to face in our business career. The reality is sometimes the team member could be facing tough personal struggles such as relationship troubles, sickness of a close family member, addiction and/or financial issues.

It’s easy to let the personal strife at home cascade into destroying his effectiveness at work. And it’s easy for him to feel lost and want to throw in the towel on everything in his life. It’s only natural. We all can get overwhelmed at times.

But you still have a business to run. And there are consequences to our actions or inactions.

That’s why it’s time for love and that type of love is tough love.

You need to address the issue immediately rather than thinking it will blow over if you ignore it. That’s not very likely to come to pass. What’s more likely to happen is the employee will turn this stumble into a giant collapse and it will likely undermine the rest of the team’s effectiveness and company morale.

My suggestion is to have a one-to-one talk and let him know that you care about him, not just as a worker but as a person. Then, offer assistance either by lending a sympathetic ear, helping him organize his priorities by dealing with challenges in a proactive way or, if you feel more comfortable, offer him the opportunity to seek professional outlets for counseling.

Here’s a brief recap of what I’ve said when I encountered this type of situation:

“You’re more than just a staff member here. I care about you as a person. But this is a business first. We are accountable to our customers for the promises we’ve made and to one another here at the company for the inherent promises we make to work hard as a cohesive team.

“Know that I’m here for you but you need to be here for yourself first.

“But ask yourself, how is your screwing up at work going to help make any of the other things going on elsewhere in your life any better? As I see it, you can choose to put on your blinders when you come to work just like a ballplayer does when he’s had strife at home and puts on his uniform.

“It takes practice and patience. And you can choose to do the same by addressing the steps you need to get yourself to a better place.

“Remember, we all are dealing with the other stuff beyond the work environment.

“Here’s what I can suggest:

“1. You can take an agreed-upon time away to settle the other issues and come back with your head in the right place.

“2. You can adopt the right attitude and behavior when you’re at work and learn to live your life in a compartmentalized way.

“I also can direct you to the human resource company we work with that can guide you to the right type of professionals who can offer more help.

“Just remember it takes every one of us pulling together and being productive to be successful.

“So, how do you want to proceed?”

This is a powerful tonic for those who wish to take it. Many a good staff member, co-worker, partner or family member has been saved with early intervention.


The good and the bad

Sometimes, it’s not so black and white. What I mean is that sometimes an employee can both be really good and very bad. This polar-opposite type of behavior shows that he has the training and the ability to be an asset to the company as well as giant problem.

It also shows that he shifts his emotions and his performance like the wind. You can never really be sure what you’re going to get. It’s almost like a split personality. My dad, who grew up on a farm, used to refer to this misfiring individual as, “The type of person who helps you milk the cow and then kicks the bucket over as he’s leaving the barn.”

With proper coaching, the trick is to build an objective case of when this person is falling short so it moves from an opinion-based discussion to a fact-filled discussion. And we need to be engaging the formalized Steps of Discipline sooner rather than later.

The conversation I’d have with this type of individual would be more like this:

“I can see you have great potential. Many times you’ve stepped up and performed. I also can see that sometimes you fall short when it comes to producing a consistently high level of performance. Here are three such instances …”

 Then, I’d share the objective evidence such as customer complaints, poor sales performance, multiple callbacks, shoddy paperwork and sloppy truck. Written reports, statistical tracking and digital photo documentation are great tools for building a trail that can move your conversation from opinion to fact-based.