Common life stressors and their impact on the workplace

Let’s face it, life can be hard. It’s easy to say leave your
problems at the door, but sometime common life stressors can affect employees’
personal lives so much that it creeps into their professional life.

Increased levels of psychological or physical stress can have
serious implications for their performance and that of their teams.

While you, as a business leader, can’t prevent the hardships of
life, you can put programs and policies in place to help employees in their
time of need.

What is a life stressor?

While balancing
work and personal lives
can create tension
for employees, life stressors that can impact performance go beyond typical
day-to-day life issues.

Make no mistake, balancing everyday issues like competing family
schedules, managing commutes or juggling
child care
can be challenging. For the sake of this
conversation, life stressors are larger, often more traumatic life events or
major life changes.

Common life situations that may impact employee performance

Changes in marital statusChanges in child custody arrangementsLoss of a family memberIllness (either for the employee or a family member)Mental health problemsBuying or selling a homeFinancial challenges, including bankruptcyAnd accidents or disasters

Another situation increasingly common today is elder care, when an
adult child becomes responsible for elderly family members.

Life stressors can cause physical, emotional and behavioral
problems, potentially pulling an employee’s focus away from work. The stress
can impact their well-being and mental alertness, making it hard for them to be
present and productive. It can also create a lack of motivation and difficulty

While these situations are personal in nature, they can easily
impact an employee’s work life – and their team or employer.

How can your business help employees manage life stressors to
avoid negative impacts for both the employee and the business?

What are the signs your employee is struggling?

If an employee is having trouble managing personal issues, their
demeanor or performance may change.

Previously stellar employees may:

Become problematicBe distracted or unfocusedMake mistakesMiss deadlines Be away from the workplace more than usualExhibit anger, or have a shorter fuse, lashing out at
fellow employees or customers

While it’s easy to dismiss a bad day, when employees are dealing
with continued stressors, their bad days can add up to bad weeks, or even
months. The situation can hurt team morale or customer relationships, causing a
loss of trust and confidence.

One employee’s stress can disrupt the workplace and create ripple
effects that impact business.

While no one anticipates
life stressors, they naturally happen. How the employee and the employer
handles these situations can have lasting impacts on the employee in their time
of need and on the business.

How can you talk to
the employee about the situation?

Everyone handles stress differently,
and depending on your relationship with the employee, they may or may not feel
comfortable sharing details of their situation with you.

Work to create a positive
environment of trust and mutual respect that allows employees to discuss their
challenges with you openly. This means making yourself or the employee’s direct
manager accessible and interested in their well-being.

If an employee does not
openly share their situation, but their performance is suffering, their manager
should address the issue with the employee.

Talk with them one-on-one,
and share that you’ve noticed a problem. Ask if there is anything that’s led to
this dip in performance. This offers them the chance to open up about their

While there are situations
that require employees to divulge some information – say if an employee needs
to request extended leave or medical accommodations – there are no laws that
require an employee to share anything about their personal lives.

Let the employee know that
you (and your leadership team) care and would like to work together to address
their performance. Show them that you are there to support them. Let them know
they’re a valued member of the team, and ask what you can do to help.

While employees do not
have to share their personal news with you or their supervisor, if they aren’t
meeting their job requirements, the life stressor has become a performance
issue. It’s
important that all employees be held accountable for their job performance.

How can your business provide assistance?

If the employee isn’t able to focus or positively contribute, the
situation needs to be addressed in a proactive manner, respecting both the
employee’s needs and that of the business.

Depending on the life stressor, an employee may need to prioritize
their personal life versus their work commitments.

Thinking ahead and establishing policies and procedures that
address potential situations can help avoid problems.

Each situation may require different solution:

To help an employee better manage their personal
situation, an employer can offer an employee
assistance program
that provides
confidential support, resources and referrals. 
If part of the challenge is meeting regular office
hours due to a change in child custody arrangements or a child care issue, it
might mean offering a flexible work
. If the life stressor is the loss of a family member, offering
condolences and support
may include
bereavement leave. If an accident or natural
is involved, it may mean helping connect the employee
to available government assistance.

If a change in the employee’s health has caused the issue, an employee
may ask an employer to grant them a
reasonable accommodation under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA)

Or if an employee needs to take leave due to a medical condition,
the Family
and Medical Leave Act (FMLA)
may apply. Other
solutions could include a leave of absence or allowing an employee to work from
home when possible.

No matter what the solution, the common denominator is
consistency: each employee must be treated the same.

One employee can’t be offered accommodations or solutions that are
not offered to others. To maintain that balance, think ahead and prepare for a scenario.
Create policies and procedures to fairly address the situation no matter what
employee is involved.

Also keep in mind privacy. Whatever the employee shares with you
should be kept private and only shared with those who may need to know, such as
human resources or the employee’s direct supervisor. Respecting the employee’s
privacy and encouraging others to do the same helps contribute to a positive,
trusting work environment.

Maintaining open communication, proactively addressing problems
and highlighting resources that are available can help protect both employees
and businesses from added stress when life situations interrupt the workplace.

To learn more, download our complimentary magazine: The Insperity guide to leadership and management.

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