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Tuesday, November 03, 2009

Personal and business crises

One thing I've discovered over the years is that your personal space truly impacts your working space, especially if you are responsible for selling and marketing. No matter how much you try to mask your distress, family problems, or other personal difficulties, they shine through loud and clear in a matter of days or weeks.

These problems create a spiral effect: You are distressed, your performance and effectiveness decline, and then you lose your job, only to make things even worse. And as you battle your demons on several fronts, the compounding pressure of negative circumstances (often totally beyond your control) overwhelm your immune system, and you become ill.

Businesses need to tread carefully when evaluating current and prospective employees for personal problems. You might run afoul of anti-discrimination or human rights rules, and an angry person with emotional angst and hurt will often want to raise a fuss.

Here are some possible solutions to this type of problem:

Know your law and have a good employment lawyer available. It is better to pay for some advice before you get into a mess, than to help you get out. In some areas, employment contracts can save you many headaches.

Evaluate thoroughly before hiring
We recently concluded the evaluation of someone who did not score too highly on the initial test but "interviewed well". (Oh no, I broke one of my own rules. Saved, however, by the other rule; no one gets a job with us unless they actually perform effectively in the evaluation stage.) The prospective employee crashed. Yesterday, I learned the reason -- a personal life crisis that probably recurs frequently.

Respond quickly when performance falters
You cannot (usually) solve the employee's personal crisis, so you are faced with the choice of subsidizing the employee as he or she works through it, or parting company. You might (as we did once) co-ordinate with the employee "stress leave" and have the government's employment insurance program pay the costs.

Second chances are reasonable, third chances are insane
Obviously you should not rehire or reconsider an employee who must leave because of serious failures or criminality, but often personal stress will cause behaviour that results in a firing offense. If the employee had performed well before the personal crisis, and has resolved it, you can rehire, cautiously -- just don't allow a repeat show.

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