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How to support an employee during a rough patch

Entrepreneurs offer advice on how to best support a struggling team member

5 min read




The Young Entrepreneur Council is an invite-only organization composed of the world’s most promising young entrepreneurs. YEC has also launched BusinessCollective, a free virtual mentorship program that helps millions of entrepreneurs start and grow businesses. Read previous SmartBrief posts by YEC.

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Q: How can you show your support for an employee you notice going through a rough patch without overstepping your boundaries?

1. Make a kind gesture  

A kind gesture can go a long way towards showing an employee you care and want to support them. Having soup delivered when they are homesick or sending a quick video message to say hello or to make them laugh are simple, inexpensive ways to show that you’re thinking of them. — Mark KrassnerExpectful

2. Create a safe space  

The work begins in culture setting before the rough patch ever begins. Have you created a culture of authenticity, vulnerability and a real human touch? With those in place, an employee going through a rough patch can know that it’s a safe space, that you really care, and you’re there for support. With a safe space, you can shift into listening and even coaching if it makes sense. — Jonathan Gass, Nomad Financial

3. Acknowledge the situation

Sometimes the simple act of showing that you are listening and are there if they need you is all it takes. A simple acknowledgment of the situation, “Hey, I know you are going through a tough time,” followed by, “let me know if there is anything I can do,” is enough for that person to reach out if necessary without you overstepping your boundaries. — Jen Brown, The Engaging Educator

4. Listen without judgment or trying to fix things

In business, we tend to be biased towards action and problem-solving. It can drive us nuts to be presented with a problem that seems to lacks a solution. Listening is the solution. Listening is the be-all and end-all. While listening, do your best to avoid judging or trying to fix things. Instead, focus on asking questions and summarizing what your employee is saying. — Kevin TaoNeuEve

5. Let them know their job is secure

I don’t want an employee to have to worry about losing their job during a difficult time. I let them know that I want them to take care of themselves and work through any issue they may be facing. I find that the act of standing by an employee during a hardship builds loyalty. — Brian GreenbergTrue Blue Life Insurance

6. Be a human being

Talk to your employee, ask them how they are doing, tell them you notice they seem to be having a hard time and listen to them as a caring friend would. Ask if there’s anything they need or that you can do for them. Be kind and respectful, and make sure they know that you’re there for them. — Rachel BeiderMassage Greenpoint, Massage Williamsburg

7. Offer flexibility  

Employees may not be able to share their problems with you, and that can make it hard to support them. But when it’s obvious they’re stressed, you can always discreetly help by allowing more flexibility in their schedule and on their projects. This will allow them to deal with their issue in their way. — Adam SteeleLoganix

8. Take them to lunch

Sometimes removing the employee from the work environment will allow them to feel more comfortable and open up on their own. Just ask how they’re doing and what is going on, but do not press if they want to talk as they will on their own terms. Even if they never actually express the rough time they are going through, the one-on-one time outside of the office can help them feel better. — Stanley MeytinTrue Film Production

9. Prioritize their personal needs

Be a good listener when your colleague wants to talk. While you may have business to discuss during a one-on-one, when someone is going through a rough time, you need to demonstrate that work can wait. Show some humanity and defer the business talk for another time. By putting yourself in their shoes in that moment, you can get some understanding of their needs and help them best you can. — David

10. Ask what you can do  

While you can’t necessarily ask them what’s wrong, you can ask if there is anything you can provide or do that would help them. Offering assistance is a way to open the conversation and let them know you are there. That’s enough. Then, it’s up to them to share or ask for something so you know how you can help. — Drew HendricksButtercup