How Can You Help Your Employees Navigate Big Life Changes?
As they often say, sometimes life "just happens." And the same goes for your employees, whether or not it's planned. The loss of a partner or spouse, the birth of a child, and family separation or divorce are just a few examples of how life can change drastically and suddenly.
As a small business owner, you can help support your employees through these changes. Doing so doesn't just earn you good karma—employees that feel less stressed by life changes are as much as 20% more productive in the workplace.
So how can you help?
Awareness Is Key
Often an employee will mention when they're going through a significant life change. But sometimes they won't. That's why it's your job to keep an eye on everyone.
Maybe you notice one of your employees is speaking up less than usual during your morning meetings. Or perhaps you see an employee lagging on their workload and showing signs of stress. These could very well indicate that something big is going on in their life, and they might be having difficulty handling it.
If you see someone struggling, don't be afraid to invite them into your office for a chance to talk about how they're doing.
Listen To What They Need
Every employee is different, and each one will handle big life changes in different ways. Some will feel like the job they usually love is suddenly stressing them out, while others will want to dive into their work headfirst and distract themselves from what's happening in their life.
If you have an employee going through a significant change, avoid making assumptions about how they will handle it. Instead, ask them what you can do to help and make yourself a resource.
Promote Mental Health and Wellness
Don't just acknowledge the importance of maintaining good mental health—make it a priority. Many of the uneasy emotions stemming from life changes can be mitigated by offering your employees options for dealing with stress.
Providing a healthcare plan that includes mental health and well-being services is a great way to support employees proactively. If the costs of providing such plans are prohibitive, that's okay—there are other ways you can help. Many free or low-cost stress management resources are available online, which you can share with your employees at no expense. Even allotting just a half-hour each workday for personal meditation can benefit those undergoing big life changes.
Consider Making Some Change
When life changes drastically for your employees, you can support them by making little changes at work. Let's say one of your employees has returned from paternity leave, and he's excited to get back to work—but his newborn is only in daycare until 4 p.m. each night and needs to be home.
This would be an excellent opportunity to sit down with your employee and discuss moving his hours around or even allowing him to finish whatever work he has left for the day at home. Making small changes and finding compromises that work for you and your employees will show them that you're invested in them, and in return, they'll stay invested in you.
And Some Exceptions
As a small business owner, you'll likely have some existing policies regarding vacation, sick days, and other time off. If an employee is going through a significant life change, this is your chance to acknowledge them and make an exception.
Doing so doesn't mean extending their paid vacation by three months. Instead, you should discuss important dates and times they might need off and see what you can do to accommodate them if they've used up their regular allotment.
The same goes for any exception you make to work-related policies—be accommodating within reason but be clear that you're making a one-time decision to help support them.
Just because an employee's life change is behind them doesn't mean it's over. Births, deaths, separations, and similar events leave lasting marks on people. Sure, it may have happened three months ago, but it's still your responsibility to check in with an employee from time to time.
You can do so in various ways, and it's up to you to choose what works best for your workplace. Sometimes an open-door policy and a willingness to listen are enough to remind employees that they can talk with you.
If the communication isn't happening quite with ease, you might try passing out an optional wellness survey at the end of each week. Whatever you decide, maintaining contact after these big life changes will show your employees that you care.