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Wise Counsel: Helping Employees Overcome Personal Challenges | #ICMIchat Rundown (July 7, 2020)

Women sitting across desk discussing work.

This year has proven stressful on all fronts, and it's only natural that our employees are feeling the pressure both at home and at work. In an ideal world, problems at work would stay at work, and problems at home would remain at home. While it sounds nice, it's not realistic. The situation is complicated by working from home; there is no longer a clear delineation between the two most significant parts of our employees' lives.

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The job of contact center managers is similarly fuzzy. Problems employees' experience off the clock at no longer far away while they're at the office. Employees are increasingly engaging their managers for guidance and support for challenges inside and outside of work. We asked the contact center leaders of #ICMIchat how managers best address these concerns.

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Problems Come to Work

No matter how hard they might try, challenges impacting our employees' personal lives follow them to the office, affecting their attitude, energy, and focus. The old concept of leaving personal business at home was never realistic. Truly excellent managers understand how to embrace these human factors to bring out the best in their workforce. We must always remember that our employees are people, and sometimes they cannot help but be impacted by things outside of their control.

Companies that encourage employees to bring their “whole selves” to work strengthen openness and creativity, allowing people to ask for help when they need it and fostering an environment where employees are more loyal and productive because they feel accepted.

We need to acknowledge that a person brings their whole self to work. Instead, we should try to help/encourage ppl on how to effectively manage the stress & distraction caused by personal problems, care for themselves, take time off if needed, etc.

Companies that assume that employees have a "personal/professional" switch are doomed to fail. Especially in the current scenario where we no longer effectively separate personal from professional (physically & mentally). It must coexist!

Getting Involved

The contact center industry is full of helpful people, and that includes leadership. When we see employees struggling, our natural instinct is to intervene. That's what we're trained to do! However, it's not always appropriate or desirable to get involved in our employees' personal affairs. Managers should take care to respect boundaries while remaining available to listen and support.

Personal conselor/therapist shouldn't be in a Supervisor's job description, but it sure makes good sense & adds value when relationships are built around trust and non-judgemental support for employees.

Companies, not individual managers, should be prepared to help employees cope with personal challenges. Wellness programs, personal leave, access to counseling, etc. This responsibility belongs to the company; the manager doesn't bear all of it alone.

I do whatever it takes. My boundary is whatever my teammate is comfortable with. I also recognise that some of them might have a good support group outside of work, like I do, and not open up much. So it’s really however much they will allow me to help!

Not Always Simple

Our community has experience helping their employees through some complicated circumstances. Unfortunately, these situations are all too common, and they could also affect your team.

I have spoken to an employee whose little child was crushed in a accident on a farm. I am not sure I helped her, but I did listen on a day when she was feeling extremely low and we've stayed in touch for years. Her grief was sacred.

Wouldn't say I was sole point of assistance for, but... food security, death in family, medical emergencies, travel/ride issues. I try to help where and how I can. Play each sitch by ear. Maybe they just need to vent. Just being there is big.

Unfortunately, employees living in cars with kids, physically abusive partners, contemplating suicide/self-harm, death of a child. Experienced some horribly sad situations. Listen, provide resources, try to support. Try to be the best colleague you can be.

I have helped ee's with deaths in family, issues with kids. I found being there, being totally present, and actively listening and only offering advice/guidance when asked was best approach. Sometime ees just want that space where they feel safe to openly talk.

While we hope never to encounter these tragedies in our work, it is our responsibility as leaders to prepare for when they arise. While sometimes listening is all our employees need, other times, we may want to connect them to professional resources that can assist in depth.

The situation is the least important. The same skills we want to offer customer, are the same skills we must offer our teammates: active listening, compassion, attention, empathy, resolution when possible. Walking the walk.

Here's my approach
1) Listen, just listen DON'T offer solutions. You may not be an expert in what they're going through
2) Reaffirm things will be okay, work wise. Don't give them one more thing to worry about. Push deadlines, if you can
3) Keep it confidential

Employers have helped me thru problems from death of a loved one to divorce to surgery to cancer. One manager stands out--he listened without giving advice, helped me create solutions, modified my schedule, and provided a way for me to get additional training.

Risks of Involvement

It's fantastic when we're able to be a positive force in our employee's lives, but becoming too closely involved comes with risks. Being too friendly with one employee could give others on your team the impression of favoritism or unfairness. It may also be more challenging to enforce performance and behavior standards when the line between friend and boss is blurred.

Absolutely there are risks. Good luck trying to be a therapist and also a boss. Boundaries are important, but we can still build authentic and meaningful relationships.

Yep. The most common risk is forcing managers with no EQ to act. This is an area where the intuition of good managers plays a critical role.

Yes. Certain boundaries can't be uncrossed once crossed. It's important that your employees know that they are supported, but at the end of the day you share a working relationship. There aren't always easy answers when discerning where the boundary lay.

Heck yes there are risks if mgmt gets too involved in employees’ personal affairs. It's hard to put intimacy aside once it's been established. An emp may want mgr's support when a parent dies, but they may not want to share about their own medical condition, for ex.

Holding the Line

Our employees' challenges at home will inevitably affect their work life, but they're no excuse for not doing the job well. Managers must find the right balance between empathy and accountability; it's not always clear. Regardless, it's vital to document performance, coaching, and discussions with employees if needed for further personnel actions.

We need to demonstrate grace and love to this employee and guide them toward a positive resolution. We must also let them know the behavior can't continue, as it is not fair to the team or business. Give them a good chance to heal, but don't let a wound fester.

Carefully, keep it on a short leash. Personal problems can't become the default explanation to poor performance. Care & support must be offered; if the problem isn't fixable by the employer and performance degrades, hard decisions have to be considered.

If employee performance slips due to personal problems, managers should document it, speak to the employee, and together craft solutions with clear accountability, distinct from disciplinary action, for a specified time. Problems arise, but resolution is important.

This should definitely be recorded, but there needs to be a wellbeing conversation here. If that doesn't happen the manager isnt actively helping that person to get back on track!

Interest, Not Interrogation

Our efforts to support and encourage our employees are well-meaning, but that doesn't mean they'll always be received as intended. Being too nosey can make employees feel uncomfortable, and asking too many questions as we try to assist could leave employees feeling pressured to share more than they'd like. As you listen to your employees, be mindful of their boundaries and privacy, too.

Don't wait until there's a problem. Build relationships with your employees from day one. When it hits the fan, you won't have to think about how to react. It'll be very natural in the moment. You'll be acting human.

It's how they word it. "How can I help?" over "I can help you only if you tell me," "I don't need to know the details over" over "I can help you better if you tell me what's happening." Never ask for more information than they're already giving you.

Open For Business, and Personal Business

To set the stage for dialogue of both personal and professional challenges, leaders should be deliberate in their availability toward employees. Open door policies are the norm, but that doesn't equate approachability. Take time to get out of the office, meeting your employees halfway both physically and metaphorically. In a virtual environment, put additional effort into starting conversations without an agenda. Leave the possibilities open to where your team wants to take them.

1) Be among the team. Don't make them come to you all the time, as many just won't.
2) Get out of the walls of the office and mix up the environment.
3) If you put on the act that you are busy all the time, people will simply leave you alone. Sad.

This is all about building trust. When employees see you care about them - genuinely - they will care. That means leaders must actively listen, ask for employee's opinions, ask for feedback and follow through on actioning that feedback, help them grow, etc.

Leaders must be approachable in good/neutral times to be approached by an empl who's having a bad time. Demonstrate you know how to listen. Every single work day, leaders get the chance to demonstrate this. Also, if comfortable, leaders can open up personally too.

Escalate Where Appropriate

Leaders cited various circumstances where professional help was more appropriate than breakroom psychology. It's crucial to be well versed in the resources available to your team when they need more help than we're able to offer personally. Many companies provide support through Employee Assistance Programs (EAP), but it's easy to forget these resources exist. Take a moment to familiarize yourself with these benefits so you'll be aware of how to proceed when the time comes. As with escalating customer contacts, making it easy to take the next step easy for your employees is the best way to help them when the problem exceeds your capabilities.

Supervisors deserve clear guidance fr company about when to refer someone to Employee Assistance Program (EAP). No risk of appearing apathetic! Mgrs aren't trained to treat substance abuse or domestic violence! The referral should be a relatively predictable step.

This is where the HR professionals and/or common sense need to take over. Mental & physical health are far to delicate for untrained professionals to cross the line by trying to do too much above their level of training.

It's almost always a great and courageous move to remind people that an EAP is there for them. Apathy is when you just can't quite muster enough care to look up the number and get them the help they need.

Listen to what the individual wants, ask coaching questions like "have you thought about reaching out to external / internal resources?" - when a manager tells someone they need to do something it automatically inserts a barrier for the person on the receiving end.


#ICMIchat July 14, 2020
Today’s Metrics: What’s on Your Dashboard

We want to hear from you! We're researching how contact centers have adapted to the COVID-19 pandemic. Join the study, and you'll receive a free copy of our research when it's complete.

Wise Counsel: Helping Employees Overcome Personal Challenges

Q1: Why are metrics important to contact center operations and customer experience?

Q2: What is the difference between a metric and a Key Performance Indicator (KPI)? How do you determine which metrics should be KPIs?

Q3: How do metrics influence the behavior of contact center agents? Managers?

Q4: Do metrics ever negatively impact stakeholders? How can we avoid unintended consequences?

Q5: Are some measurements or metrics useful to management but shouldn’t be shared with front-line agents?

Q6: What metrics or KPIs have you found most insightful in 2020?

Q7: Have you changed how you interpret your metrics or KPIs in the past 6 months? Which ones? Why?

Q8: What metrics will be most important over the next 6 months? Do you predict a permanent or temporary change?