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Buddy or boss?

Set a work-home boundary that works

by on
in Employee Benefits Program,HR Management,Human Resources

Every manager must decide how much to get involved in employees’ personal lives. You might like establishing a relationship whereby direct reports share with you their ups and downs about their families. At the other extreme, you might avoid any talk that’s not work-related.

The best strategy falls in the middle. Show concern for workers’ personal lives; just don’t get too enmeshed.

Ask why. When workers bring up problems at home, try to determine their purpose. This sounds easy, but people often only reluctantly admit what they want from you—if they even know.

Example: A clerk rambles about his teenage son’s run-ins with the law. You ask, “Is there anything I can do?” That’s when the clerk finally requests that telecommuting might help him keep a better eye on his son after school.

Don’t guess at employees’ needs or motives for opening up. Ask them. If they hope you’ll merely listen and sympathize, stay away from playing shrink.

Suggest alternates. If you’re too busy or unwilling to get caught up in employees’ personal lives, listen for five minutes. Then refer them to a more appropriate resource such as an HR rep or employee assistance program. If you’re unsure where to direct them, say, “I wish I could help, but that’s out of my league.”

Give advice sparingly. Beware of making “If I were you” statements. When you tell employees how to handle their personal affairs, you risk becoming embroiled in a saga. Trouble erupts if you give bad advice or the worker fails to follow it and things worsen.

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