Employers often expect employees to separate their personal and professional lives. Unfortunately, this doesn’t account for the reality that workers are human beings. They can’t just turn off their emotions when they arrive at the office.

The thinness of the border between personal and professional becomes most apparent when staff members face intense distress. Common personal struggles like divorce, death in the family, and mental illness can negatively impact an employee’s performance and their presence in the office.

The very pace of modern office life can be a source of toxic stress in itself. When employees spend long hours at their desks and bring work home, it’s only a matter of time before it gets to be too much.

Instead of turning a blind eye to employees’ personal issues, some managers and companies have begun to acknowledge the fact that the personal and professional are not totally distinct spheres of life. These same managers and companies have taken steps to assist employees with stress and personal adversity in a variety of ways. You would do well to follow their lead.

Establish Official Channels for Assisstance

One great way to offer support to distressed employees is to ensure the human resources department has a plan in place when such occurrences arise. Try to create formal policies for how your organization responds to employees dealing with mental illness, grief, divorce, natural disasters, and other common sources of distress.

Along the same lines, workplaces can set up employee assistance programs (EAPs) to give employees access to support and resources in times of need.

Practice Flexibility

Managers can support their employees by practicing flexibility in the face of unexpected crises. After a natural disaster, for example, company leaders may allow employees to work from home or work adjusted schedules as they tend to the damage to their homes, health, and loved ones. Organizations should be similarly empathetic to employees dealing with divorce, who may need to take time off to attend to court dates and other appointments.

Support Employees’ Mental and Emotional Health

Companies should also consider providing employees with mental health resources. This might include employing on-site grief counselors and ensuring the company’s benefits package covers mental health treatment.

Managers should promote respectful work environments by shutting down office gossip concerning an employee’s personal struggles. It may also be worthwhile to combat the mistreatment and stigmatization of mentally ill employees by providing training and education to all staff members.

Work/life balance is essential to mental health. Managers should encourage employees to take breaks during the workday, and they should help employees disconnect from work outside of their office hours.

“Balance is not a percentage of time assigned between work and personal life. Balance is the right combination of things I need in order to be my best,” says Anissa Davenport, chief strategic development and marketing officer at Vidant Health, in an article from MBA@Syracuse, the online MBA program from Syracuse University. It is up to managers to provide employees with the “right combination of things” they need. This may include resources, training, budgets, adjusted schedules, and even role-restructuring, if necessary.

No matter the specific form it takes, the key to supporting employees through times of distress is empathy. Company leaders and managers must acknowledge that life circumstances rarely align perfectly with the demands of the workplace. Assisting employees through difficult periods demonstrates to them that your company cares about their well-being. This, in turn, will promote increased loyalty, engagement, and productivity.

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