Life isn’t always plain sailing and no matter how hard we try to keep our work and personal lives separate, it’s inevitable that issues with our partner, children, illness, financial situation etc. can start to have a knock on effect at work. Most of us have been there at one point or another.
And whether those problems are fairly small and fairly easy to deal with or bigger, more serious, life changing things that take more to overcome, when our work starts to take a negative hit it can feel like one more overwhelming thing on our already overloaded plate.
And now that many of us are either dealing with working from home or tentatively easing our way back into the office, it’s more crucial than ever that your Human Resources department is ready and equipped to help any of your employees who may need a little extra support.
The good news is that many employers are recognising that promoting employee wellbeing is a part of the bigger picture when it comes to staff retention and happier and more productive teams. So what can you do as an HR person to help foster a workplace culture that supports and motivates its people, especially if they’re under particular strain?
How your HR team can offer more support to your people
Pressure comes in many forms; both personal and professional. And regardless of whether that pressure is related to childcare issues or sales targets, it can contribute to an employee feeling anxious, stressed, or even depressed.
And that’s where you, as Human Resources, need to step in and help an employee who is clearly struggling.
Obviously, offering support to someone in trouble or distress is just the right thing to do as a fellow human, but it can also be crucial in stopping issues from escalating and even leading to disciplinary action being necessary for poor performance, frequent absences or flaring up at a colleague.
So how do you do that in a way that is caring yet professional? How do you offer help and support to someone without crossing boundaries in a manner that may be inappropriate?
Of course, every employee - and every situation - is different, but there are a few things you can apply in almost every instance to ensure that you’re offering assistance in a way that is helpful, meaningful - and appropriate.
For example, you need to be aware that, although you are offering support in the workplace, you are not a therapist or a counselor. If your employee is experiencing serious problems such as domestic violence or a financial crisis, you will need to refer them to someone who is better qualified to help.
You want to offer a welcoming and safe ‘open door’ environment for all of your employees and whilst you can offer a compassionate ear and ensure that an employee’s manager knows that there are circumstances which may be affecting their performance, you can’t be expected to accommodate every single employee who has problems in their personal lives.
It goes without saying that respecting an individual’s privacy is a must too. They must know that they can speak to you in confidence and that anything they tell you doesn’t suddenly become water cooler gossip.
It’s also important that you know when to pull back a little to ensure that you’re not overstepping the mark. It may be tempting to do all you can to help someone, but if you have the feeling that the lines between personal/private and professional are becoming blurred it could be time to gently nudge the employee to seek help elsewhere.
How to identify someone who needs help
There are a number of red flags that you should keep an eye out for when it comes to spotting signs that someone may be in need of support. They include:
- Changes in the way they behave
- Becoming withdrawn or disengaged
- Ceasing to participate in meetings and general office life
- Calling in sick more often than is normal
- Frequently being late or leaving work early
- Appearing distracted or unable to concentrate
- Becoming irritable, argumentative or angry
- Being tearful or easily upset
- Appearing to be shaky, sweating more than usual, or having trouble breathing - these are indicators of a panic attack
Any of the above signs could be a very clear indication that all is not well with an individual in your workplace and it is now up to you to reach out and check in with them. And that brings us on to...
Why you’ll probably need to be the one who reaches out
The fact is, employees are unlikely to proactively seek you out for help, advice or support and you are going to have to be the one who makes the first move, so to speak.
There are a few different reasons for this:
- They might be too embarrassed to ask for help
- They might think they can handle the problem on their own
- They might not want to share details of their private life with a colleague
- The might not want to look vulnerable or ‘weak’ at work
- They might be concerned about their issue becoming common knowledge
- They might not have even considered that they can turn to HR in their time of need
So while you’ll need to keep an eye out for the warning signs of a colleague in distress, as covered above, it’s also important that you make it common knowledge to your company’s employees that you are there should they be inclined to come to HR for support.
How to let people know that they can talk to you
It needs to be made clear when a new hire joins your organisation that Human Resources has an open door policy and that if they need to speak to you - about anything - they are welcome to do so in a space that is welcoming, caring and strictly confidential.
This would also be good information to add to your new hire checklist and onboarding manual so that you can ensure that all employees have been made aware of it.
Of course, you also want your existing employees to know that they can approach you if need be so it could be well worth taking a moment to send a memo round reminding people, or letting them know, that they have the right to speak to HR and that they can always be assured of confidentiality.
A professional Human Resources department must maintain standards of confidentiality and is not allowed to disclose potentially sensitive personal information to whoever they happen to be making a coffee in the kitchen at work with.
Letting people know this doesn’t have to be an awkward ‘bolt out of the blue’ either. A friendly email checking in on everyone and updating them on any pandemic-related company news such as the return to the office, new flexible working from home policies, or workplace hygiene is the perfect format.
Building a culture of trust to help employee wellbeing
The good news is that as your company’s employees become more aware of your welcoming HR department, a culture of trust and support from within the company will grow.
It’s unlikely to happen overnight, but gradually, people will realise that they can come to you if they’re in need of help or advice - whether it’s personal or professional. This will be reinforced by your efforts to check in and reach out to staff members too.
And the best part of this is that when your employees feel supported and recognised by the company and its leaders, they’ll be in a better position to deal with any issues - which will have the knock on effect of helping to make them happier, more efficient and more productive at work.