You arrive at work and notice one of your employees slumped in his chair, frowning. You smile and say good morning. He responds with a half-hearted hello. As the day progresses, the employee remains somber. It isn't like him at all. You call him into your office and ask if everything's okay. He tells you his wife asked for a divorce.

When you manage people, running into situations like this is par for the course. A 2016 study of eight countries by the London School of  Economics and Political Science (LSE) found that depression is costing Brazil, Canada, China, Japan, Korea, Mexico, South Africa and the U.S. more than $246 billion a year.

Stress, anxiety and depression zap employee productivity, there's no question about it. And a decrease in productivity can negatively impact your bottom line.

Divorce, infertility, a sick partner or child, an ailing parent, a mental health emergency, a cancer diagnosis, bankruptcy--these are some of the traumatic life events your employees could face under your watch.

As a small business owner, it's your job to offer your staff the support they need to remain successful at work while navigating a personal crisis.

Check-in with your employee regularly.

Some employees will tell you exactly what's going on without any prompting. Others will try to tough it out, hoping you won't notice.

If you're tuned out, you might not realize anything's amiss until your employee drops the ball. By then it's too late, and your lack of attention may have cost you a client, hurt the employee, or worse.

Do you really care about your employees as a person? You must have the emotional intelligence to pick up on employee mood shifts and respond accordingly.

Build strong relationships through regular one-on-one meetings. Set weekly or bi-weekly check-ins and use this time to touch base on projects and also to see how they're doing mentally.

If an employee admits to having trouble focusing during a check-in, you have the privacy and space to explore the "why."

It's usually best not to pry forcefully. Don't ask personal questions out of the blue that your employee might not want to answer. Instead, try asking "Is everything all right?" or "How can I help you?"

Get guidance from human resources.

Perhaps your number one method of supporting a team member through a personal crisis, besides connecting with them on a personal level, is to have a strong relationship with your human resources staff.

Connect with your HR manager at the first sign of trouble. Think of HR as a mentor who can coach you in how best to handle delicate situations.

HR can also provide talking points or a script you can follow, if you feel that will help you. This way you'll be less likely to unintentionally say something that offends or upsets the employee.

Provide accommodations.

Let's say you have an employee who is usually reliable in completing her monthly workload. However, over the past few days or weeks, her output has slowed to a crawl.

During your bi-weekly check-in, she admits she's depressed and hasn't had the energy to function at her normal pace.

According to the Social Security Administration, employees don't have to disclose mental health conditions. However, under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), employees with disabilities are entitled to protection and can request reasonable accommodations.

Employers can modify the work environment or the manner in which work is performed. HR can help you figure out which accommodations make sense in a given situation.

Common workplace accommodations include:

  • Work from home - Consider a partial work from home schedule, or allow your employee to complete all of his or her work from home for a set period of time.
  • Alternate hours - Allow your employee to work around midday doctor's appointments. Or reduce your employee's hours on a temporary basis.
  • Reduced workload - If your employee is expected to produce 40 widgets in a week, ask him or her to produce 30 widgets instead.
  • Assistive technology - Provide equipment such as an ergonomic keyboard or voice recognition software.

Connect your employee with outside resources.

From non-profits that give money to families battling cancer, to platforms that let individuals donate rides to the doctor or a week's worth of groceries, there are many resources you can point your employee toward.

HR typically keeps a list of community resources to access as well.

One final note. Remember to set boundaries. In small startups especially, it's easy to create close relationships because teams can be so small.

You're there to help during normal business hours, but you're not your employee's therapist or best friend. Keep it professional and do what it takes to meet employee needs during the crisis.

Published on: May 21, 2018