"You have to ask people about their kids."

This is probably not advice most adult humans need to hear -- from what I can tell, most do it naturally. I, however, do not. I'm not a kid person. I'm not a pet person. I'm not even a plant person. I won't hesitate to tell you I'm not interested in learning the secret ingredient in the cookies you brought to the office. I will absolutely never try to bake them for myself.

I prefer my work to most things. And when I'm not working for my day job as an editor, my main hobby is my side hustle... as an editor. Or freelance writing. Or something fun like blogging about composition. Or reading about how to write better.

My partner does... whatever it takes to run a household, and I focus 110 percent on my career. I can't imagine a better life.

So when I became a manager for the first time, I needed to be reminded of this thing normal people seem to do naturally: You have to ask people about their kids.

The employees on your team have lives outside of work.

They have houses with plumbing issues, families who take trips to Europe, dogs who have to be house-trained; and kids with school events, dentist appointments, broken arms; and germs that make them sick, then make the whole school sick, then make the whole household sick, then make the whole office sick...

We have to learn to roll with it. It's not OK to step in as manager and expect them to forget every important thing in their lives because you prefer work to the pitter patter of little feet (or paws).

Some bosses do that. People don't like those bosses. Don't be one of those bosses.

Instead of greeting team members each morning with a rundown of expectations for the day, and giving them demerits when the flu and leaky pipes unravel their plans, here are a few quick ways to help them excel in their roles while having a life outside of work (even if you don't want one).

1. Ask about their kids.

Start the day with this reminder from my partner. If they don't have kids, swap in pets, hobbies, cars, TV shows -- whatever gets them excited that's not work. Ask about plans for the weekend, and listen when they reply. Follow up on Monday.

Another pro tip: Write stuff down (including the kids' names). If you tend to forget small talk immediately because of the zillion things on your to-do list, jot a few notes to commit your conversations to memory.

2. Let them set their schedule.

If your employees have to choose between doing good work and picking up kids from school every day, good work will probably lose out whether they sacrifice the latter or not.

Help your employees by asking them what they need to work around and figuring out together how to make it fit.

This doesn't mean letting performance slide or even letting them come and go as they please. Instead, ask them what is the best time for them to come in each morning and leave in the afternoon or when you might expect them to make up a few hours from home in the evening or on weekends.

3. Make work a refuge.

If life outside of work is stressful, your employees might actually prefer to be in the office. Being inflexible with schedules and expectations can make work just one more stressor.

Instead, create an environment where they can do work they're proud of and tap into the creativity or other skills that help them blow off steam. And occasionally ask how they're doing. They'll probably be grateful for your neutral ear. (Just don't let yourself become their therapist.)

4. Send cards.

Maybe higher empathy folks don't need to be told this, but in case your brain works like mine: If someone has a baby, gets married, experiences a loss... send their family a card. It'll remind them you're on their side and that they work with actual humans who care about their well-being, in or out of the office.

Published on: Dec 18, 2018
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