When a coworker isn’t firing on all cylinders, sometimes it has nothing to do with work. Life is heavy, in good ways and bad. We move, we get married. We lose loved ones, have surgeries, and go through divorces.
These twists and turns impact our work, yet employers and employees tend to avoid bringing their lives into the purview of the workplace; that inhibits communication and, ultimately, our ability to do what’s right for both coworker and our business.
We’ve had a lot of opportunity this year to practice what’s become a cardinal management rule: before jumping to conclusions based purely on at-work data (missed deadlines, peer feedback, etc.), make sure there isn’t something going on beyond work that explains a coworker’s recent behavior.
If we know that work isn’t the source of someone’s performance problems, there’s an explicit set of actions we can take. We can put them on a four-day work week, take them off mission-critical work for a bit, or give them a month away from work with out-of-band time off. Note how different this is from penalizing or even firing someone for not hitting deadlines or snapping at a coworker. The prior keeps a good employee’s seat warm; the latter makes it empty.
As hard as it is for employers to believe, work isn’t always the most meaningful thing going on in an employee’s life. When we incorporate the entire three hundred and sixty degrees of our lives into our communications at work, it tips the scale of people operations toward empathy and listening rather than policy and consequences. That leads to better community, better retention, and ultimately better business performance.