A frequent mistake I've seen leaders make is to become way too involved in their employees' private lives, as well as excusing poor performance based on private problems. Trust me, the longer you're a manager, the less you'll want to know about your staff's personal issues.
Here's a typical scenario: A manager wants to appear empathetic to an employee who is struggling with performance so he or she encourages an employee to open up to them. The employee does so, confessing that they're distracted because they're going through a divorce, a health crisis, or taking care of aging parents. The manager cuts the employee some slack because of the issue. While most compassionate managers assume that this is the right thing to do, it can be a big mistake.
"...the longer you're a manager, the less you'll want to know
about your staff's personal issues."
What the manager should do instead is focus on giving the employee specific and useful feedback on performance. Otherwise, you may not be consistent and may be offering this employee something different from what you're offering another employee. In addition, you may not be helping the struggling employee, who may just need to learn to compartmentalize and focus on work at work.
Having coached workers from CEOs to janitors, I can tell you that everyone has personal problems and most people's lives at some point look like something from a bad country western song: the wife ran off with the mailman, the teenager is in jail, and the dog just died. You can't solve all of these problems and it's not your job to do so.
Good questions to ask anytime someone is having performance issues are:
1) If there is anything going on at work that is affecting your performance, please let me know.
2) If there is anything going on in your personal life that is affecting your performance, that is none of my business, but we do have employee assistance.
So you open that door but you don't walk through it.
If they tell you something personal, you can be empathetic, but refer them to employee assistance, your benefits coordinator (if they need accommodation or time off), or other resources. It's not your job to be a therapist or social worker. Do not offer them accommodations for their own health issues or their family's. That request should come from them.
If they do take appropriate time off, judge their performance on the time they're actually at work but don't continue to excuse poor performance.
Did You Know
All of our management and leadership classes cover the issues relating to setting performance standards and appropriate boundaries with employees.
Read Lynne's book "We Need to Talk" - Tough Conversations with Your Employee and
learn to tackle any topic with sensitivity and smarts.