An MSPB white paper on discipline says that addressing performance problems is especially tricky for management if personal problems are a factor; the employee being “distracted by matters in his/her personal life” was cited as the third most-common reason an employee failed in a critical element of job performance among supervisors who’d had such an employee.
Said the MSPB: “Employees are human beings, not just cogs in a machine. They can have loved ones who may fall ill; they may fall ill themselves; they may encounter financial difficulties through no fault of their own; or they may be distracted by other personal concerns. It is hard for everyone when an employee is not performing adequately for such reasons and it may appear heartless for the supervisor to add pressure to the situation by criticizing the employee’s job performance.
“A supervisor must assess the situation, including how long the issue has gone on or will likely continue, before deciding what to do. Our data shows that supervisory support has a relationship to the quality of an employee’s performance, with the most supportive supervisors tending to have the best performers. There are resources available to help employees with personal concerns and it is often appropriate for the supervisor to provide the employee with contact information for the Employee Assistance Program (EAP).
“However, supervisors must also be sensitive to the fact that there is a mission to accomplish, taxpayer monies are being spent, and it can be unfair to expect coworkers to pick up the slack.
It is important that agencies ensure that supervisors and other decision-makers set the right balance between being supportive and demanding. A supervisor who is too empathetic may fail to address serious problems that can hinder mission accomplishment. Someone too forceful may drive away a valuable employee with a short-term problem and cause other employees to seek a more supportive environment.”
Other potential complications, it said, are the possible legal issues and responsibilities if the employee has a disability.