Preparing Your Leaders for When “Life Happens”

Preparing Your Leaders for When “Life Happens”

APR 10, 2018

Preparing Your Leaders for When “Life Happens”

When “life happens”, will your organization be ready?

Just as you are about to hit “send” on the final plan for your new product launch, your phone lights up.  Your go-to project manager (your star) is calling in and you cannot wait to tell her it is a go….until you process what she is actually saying to you.  Something about a diagnosis….lots of doctor appointments ….long term treatment needed…not sure when she will be back to work. You were not prepared for this call, emotionally or professionally.

Preparing your leaders for when “life happens”

As the labor market tightens, the ability for our clients to provide support to employees when “life happens” is emerging as a form of competitive advantage – a key to employee productivity, loyalty and ultimately, retention.
There is no doubt that life will continue to happen.  At Inspire HR, our goal is for clients – from line managers to senior leaders – to be ready to “get that call”. Will your first response be your best response? Will your leaders be caught off guard and ill-equipped? Or, will they be poised and ready to help employees stay connected to their work while they navigate the unexpected that life inevitably delivers?

Knowing what to say and when to say it. Take it one step at a time.

Our business leaders manage tough situations every day – a missed sales target, uncooperative technology, inappropriate employee conduct – the list goes on.  But when managers and leaders are brought in to an employee’s deeply personal life struggle, that first conversation can really set a tone of support, or possible estrangement.  Unprepared, even the most seasoned leaders can miss the mark, damaging employee loyalty and trust.

With a little background and preparation, managers and leaders can be prepped to handle these calls with the right balance of compassion and professionalism.

  1. Promote an honest culture. Communicate with employees that you are promoting a culture of honesty. Rather than hiding personal challenges, we encourage work teams to face them head-on. Site examples of when life’s challenges were well handled by the organization to generate trust.
  2. Prepare managers for “the call.”  We have now opened the door for employees to disclose personal challenges, and our leaders need to be ready to get that call. As part of any leadership training, including crisis response as part of the curriculum.  Simply making managers aware that they will inevitably be part of one of these tough conversations has value.
  3. Acknowledge with compassion.  This may be the step that gets missed the most.  Resist the temptation to go into action mode, running the risk of overpromising or speaking out of turn.  Defer a discussion about solutions until conferring with HR and other business leaders. Simply acknowledge the gravity of the situation with kindness and compassion: “I am sorry to hear you are going through this…let me make sure I understand what you think you may need….I will check and find out what kind of flexibility we are able to provide you….”
  4. Create an informed solution.  As a leader, you will need to speak to HR and other leaders about what options and resources are available to support a struggling employee.  Use your knowledge of the person and the surrounding team to propose solutions that will work for that team, encouraging flexibility when possible.
  5. Manage expectations realistically.  Employees aim to please and may be inclined to minimize the impact of their situation, not wanting to be the cause of a productivity gap.  For the sake of planning, and managing internal expectations, I suggest taking what an employee says they need—and doubling it.

Our goal is for clients to be prepared for when “life happens” in their organizations, avoiding awkward or impulsive reactions to serious employee situations.  Prepare your managers to be poised and caring, but also to buy the time necessary to fully consider an employee’s request for support and flexibility. Losing an employee to a short-term challenge can be very costly in the long run.   To learn more about how Inspire HR can help your leaders prepare to navigate these situations contact me at or (917) 612-8571.