Most of us work with other people in our company. You get to know them and can usually anticipate how they will respond to situations and circumstances.
Then, seemingly from out of the blue, somebody starts acting differently. It usually is a change for the negative. Maybe their performance is not as good. They might seem remote instead of being engaged. They could have a shorter fuse and get angry quickly.
What can you do? When a consulting client of mine calls with this issue, here is what I suggest.
Get Together Out of the Office
Go somewhere that is not a power place for either of you. A neutral environment will make it more likely the employee will open up.
Take the employee out for a meal or a beverage in a place that, ideally, the employee and you are familiar with. The less anticipation and anxiety, the better.
Set the Agenda
In a gentle way, set the agenda. What you want to do is to take an hour or less to catch up with the employee. Circumstances often make it so that such conversations don’t occur frequently enough.
Tell them you are making a change in your management activities so the get-togethers do happen more often. Make it about you wanting to get better at being a manager.
Ask the employee if there is anything specific that they would like to talk about. Depending on the employee, they might not feel comfortable yet talking about what is making them out of sorts. Be patient.
Talk About Life Outside of Work
Ask the employee about what they are doing for recreation and renewal. Sometimes a person’s life gets out of balance.
When all they are doing is working and taking care of others, the employee is getting more and more tired and frustrated.
How Is the Family Doing?
Most of the time, family issues cause stress that the employee brings to work. Ask the employee how their family is doing.
There are so many situations that can occur in a family. Many bring joy. At least a few bring stress and anxiety.
Take your time. Wait out the pauses in the conversation. Let the employee know you care.
Agree Upon What Can Be Done
Odds are that you care about the employee and want them to experience the satisfaction of being productive again.
Despite that, you can’t force them to do anything. They have to want to make the small changes that will make a big difference.
Get clear about what each of you will be doing to help the situation get better. By you taking on some responsibility, the employee will likely do so, too.
Set a Date to Meet Again ...
Before leaving this interaction set the date, time and place for the next one. That will be when you check in to see how things are going.
Without that already established it is too easy for both you and the employee to not talk about the issue(s) again.
... Or Say Goodbye
Sometimes people will not open up. If they don’t, there is not much you can do.
You must decide if their attitude is bad enough that letting them go makes sense. Why? One person with a negative mindset can send a company into a tailspin. Such an individual will also upset your company’s clients, trade contractors and vendors, plus the other employees.
Deal with what you can. Remember, it is a business, not a family, and you are responsible for making it successful for all involved. If you can’t do that with someone, let them go.
A good strategy to make all the above less likely to happen is to make a point of meeting with your employees as I have described per a regular schedule. Once every 2-3-4 weeks (you pick the frequency) meet with an employee one-on-one. By making that investment in their emotional bank account, you let them know that you do care about them. It will be easier to talk about difficult subjects with them in the future if that time comes.
You can control a lot of things in your world. People are not one of them. Accept that, deal with whatever reality presents you doing the best you can in a caring way, and you will likely have success.