November 4, 2019

Helping a Co-worker in Need

by Courtney Risk Straw, KLC Personnel Services Attorney

Do you ever feel like you spend more time with your co-workers than your own family or friends? We spend a significant portion of our time at work and, as a result, build important relationships with coworkers. We share good news and complaints with those working around us. The time spent and the relationships built mean co-workers are often in the best position to notice signs that someone is struggling personally.

Life is full of big traumas and issues that can interfere with living our daily lives in a variety of ways.

These issues are often difficult to navigate on our own. When a personal issue begins to interfere with one’s work, the employee may need a kind ear or direction to resources for help. If you notice a significant change in someone’s productivity, attendance, mood or behavior, consider touching base. If you are concerned there may be an issue but do not feel comfortable addressing it directly with the individual, consider speaking with your human resources contact for guidance.

How Can Human Resources Help?

The best way for human resources personnel to react to an employee in distress is to be proactive in building relationships and cultivating ongoing conversations.

Build rapport with staff. Employees will be much more receptive to conversations about difficult situations if you have built a rapport with them. Look for opportunities to have conversations with employees before specific issues arise. Consider having “brown bag” lunches where your team or office is regularly encouraged to bring their lunch to a conference room for conversation. Don’t forget, however, informal interactions at the water cooler can be as just as effective. Whatever your strategy, the goal should be finding ways to connect with each employee and letting them know you are interested in them as a whole person, not just the role they play in the city.

Train supervisors to give ongoing feedback. The trend away from performance evaluations and toward ongoing feedback is beneficial in building rapport. Ongoing feedback encourages relationship building between supervisors and employees, which can help build a good foundation for providing support to the employee, if needed. Additionally, when the conversation about employee performance is ongoing, supervisors and human resource professionals will likely notice changes in
employee performance sooner. It will also likely feel more comfortable for all involved when a difficult topic, like personal struggles impacting an employee’s work, must be tackled.

Encourage use of an employee assistance program throughout the year.  Employee Assistance Programs (EAPs) are an invaluable benefit for cities and their employees. EAPs often offer face-to-face counseling, legal assistance, financial-counseling assistance and more at no cost to the employee. It is important to proactively educate employees and supervisors about the benefits included in the EAP.

Consider doing a few email blasts throughout the year highlighting a service offered. Also, make sure to highlight that the service is free; often cost can feel prohibitive to an employee in need. This is a proactive way of reminding employees of the service and normalizing the concept that we all need help from time to time.

If your city does not currently have an EAP program, speak to your health insurance provider. 

Be aware of resources in your community for those in need. Get to know the resources in your community. There are often low-or no-cost resource centers that can help direct citizens to the best services to meet their needs.  Gather a list of your community’s resources and have them handy if an employee asks.

Cultivate a culture that embraces self-care. Your personnel policies can set the tone for the working environment. Employees are more effective and efficient when they feel supported. Policies that encourage employees to use vacation time, to embrace healthy activities through incentive programs or even to take a mental health day let employees know their city cares about their whole well-being. This helps normalize the concept that our mental health is just as important as our physical health. It can be a step toward removing the stigma of mental health issues and help employees have more open conversations.

KLC offers review of personnel policies and guidance to cities on personnel issues. For more information about the personnel services, contact Andrea Shindlebower Main or Courtney Risk Straw at 800.876.4552.