In all the travel I’ve been doing lately, one thing has become clear. We live in a time when most people are oblivious to what is happening around them. For example, my daughter is disabled, and is confined to a wheelchair. Many of the hotels we stayed at during our drive through the South offered a complementary breakfast. On almost every morning, the few larger, four-seat tables were occupied by one or two people, who either never noticed or chose not to notice that there was a family with a special-needs child that needed a larger table. At no time was there an overall shortage of tables — there were plenty of the two-seat variety available. But with only one exception people remained oblivious to what was right in front of them.
I prefer to give people the benefit of the doubt, that they’re not being deliberately insensitive. My experience in business often backs up this assumption. As managers, we’re often bombarded with cautions from HR about what we can or can’t or shouldn’t talk about with our employees; most often they want us to avoid discussing health related issues. I understand the need for privacy concerns, but I’ve also seen managers take this directive way too far.
As manager, we should not be oblivious to what may be going on in our employees life outside the office. We shouldn’t pry, and we should never ask inappropriate questions. But if an employee who is otherwise a good performer suddenly has performance problems there may be extenuating circumstances in their personal life that is impacting with their ability to do their job effectively. If during a 1 on 1 discussion the employee wants to let you know there should be no rule that prevents it, though you may want to let them know that we don’t need to know any details, that simply knowing they’re experiencing a problem outside of work is sufficient.
Our good performers often care very much about what we think about how they do their job. As managers, we don’t want to be oblivious to the fact they might have extenuating circumstances from time to time. By being aware we can build a good, lasting relationship with our staff.