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How to Help a Struggling Employee

Today we want to turn things, as we often do, back around to one of our favorite words: Empathy!

Everyone goes through rough patches at work. Whether duties get more difficult, motivation levels change, or outside factors interfere with performance, it can cause a variety of problems for a variety of different people. So how can you help an employee who is visibly struggling, but in a way that is productive and empathetic? Depending on the situation, there are a few ways to extend empathy to your team members having a hard time.

Take a look at the big picture.

If you notice an employee struggling at work (and that could look like social problems, productivity issues, mistakes, missed deadlines, etc.) it’s important to step back and assess your employee’s situation as a whole before you schedule a meeting with them. When you sit down with your team member to check in with them, you want to know precisely where the issues lie, as well as the benefits that employee brings to your company. 

Try to determine things like:

  • What are the issues that make you think your employee is struggling?
  • When did these issues begin?
  • What things does your employee do well? And is there a way to incorporate more of those things into their workday?

Lead with questions.

The ideal way to check in with an employee whose performance you’re concerned about is to do so with curiosity. Understanding that many factors could be contributing to their performance changes — emotional, home life, financial, etc. — is the best first step to establishing trust and empathy between you and your employee. So, to make this check-in feel like less of a disciplinary meeting, start by asking your team member some open-ended questions.

  • How is work going for you? 
  • How do you feel about your workload?
  • Can you tell me about your deadlines, and how they’re working for you?
  • Is there anything at work you feel like you’re struggling with?

More often than not, your employees will bring up the issues they’re struggling with, simply by being allowed a safe, empathetic face-to-face between the two of you. If, for some reason, they aren’t forthcoming with their issues, you can let them know you’ve noticed that they might be struggling and that you’d like to help them.

Come up with a plan — together.

The idea is to communicate to your employee that you want them to succeed and that you’re on their side. By identifying problem areas without judgment, you’ve equipped yourself with the knowledge needed to collaborate on an improvement plan. Get input from your employee on what needs improvement, and how that can happen. By checking in regularly (being careful not to micromanage) you can improve conditions for both you and your employee, all while building up a relationship of renewed respect and trust.