Why Helping Employees Through Hard Times Matters

One of my favorite movies is Forrest Gump, and one of my favorite scenes in the movie (there are many!) is when Forrest is running and steps in dog manure. The guy running with him says “Woah man, you just ran through a big pile of dog sh*t!” and Forrest responds “It happens.” Thus the famous bumper sticker saying was born.

Mr. Gump was right. Sometimes in life people run through that big pile, and often the best thing they can do is keep on going. In Simon Sinek’s latest viral video, he talks about the Millenial generation and their inability to cope with stress. They aren’t alone in this problem, though. I’ve met plenty of Gen X’ers and Baby Boomers that were just as bad.


The sad reality is, for adults, there often aren’t any parents around to help them through those hard times. Whether we like it or not, often times that job falls to workplace leaders. In my career, I’ve dealt with employees struggling through breakups, divorces, family deaths (including suicides,) and accidents.  Once, the company I worked for even had to bail an employee out of jail who’d been arrested on the sales floor! I’d love to say that’s not an average day in management, but the truth is, that IS an average day in management.

Employees are people too.  They’re human, just like you and me. Sometimes the best loyalty builder you can have is genuinely caring for them when they go through a tough time. In my opinion, the best managers care about their people first and know the rest will fall into place. There are a lot of ways this can be accomplished:

  1. Be there to listen. As far back as September 1957, ‘listening’ appeared as a topic in the Harvard Business Review. In their article, Ralph Nichols and Leonard Stevens said, “It can be stated, with practically no qualification, that people in general do not know how to listen.” They went on to describe the biggest problem with listening is that “we think much faster than we talk and this hinders our concentration.” They proposed that we institute formal training in schools to teach kids how to be better listeners. The key point then is still true today: listening is a learned skill that requires attention and focus. When someone needs you to be there to listen, focus, hard. The more you work at it, the better you will become. Every conversation is an opportunity to improve.
  2. Recognize when problems arise from lack of skill. Sometimes an employee steps in it because they simply didn’t know how to handle the situation. It could be anything from not being properly trained on the scenario they just faced, to lacking a life skill so they were incapable of dealing with the issue. Taking the time to find the reason for the employee stepping in a pile of smelly stuff, before reacting negatively, is a critical management skill, and lets you select an appropriate response that is in the best interest of the employee and the organization. Get to the root cause and then take steps to resolve it.
  3. Offer advice. Let’s set aside all the legal concerns that can arise from this point and just look at the idea. Managers are often more experienced than their employees. I’ve had employees ask me for advice on everything from how to make a budget, to what kind of car they should buy, to what I thought of their plans to pop “The Question” to their girlfriend. When appropriate, give that advice freely and be excited with the employee that they’ll have a solution. When not appropriate, never damage the relationship by simply turning them away. Be a connector. Go the extra mile to help them find someone that can help solve their problem.
  4. Follow up. They will believe you care when they see you remembered their issue and were concerned or interested enough to find out later how things turned out. I’ve even made notes in a calendar reminder for myself so that I could get details right when I followed up.
  5. Don’t fake it. Be genuine or they will see through it immediately. If you don’t care about people enough to be genuine, you have bigger issues to deal with. Time to start looking for someone that can help you.

Stepping in a pile of the brown stuff is something everyone does on occasion. It’s never fun, and it’s always appreciated when those around lend a helping hand. Be a leader no matter what title you have, and set the example by earning a reputation as a go-to helper.



This entry was posted in Communication, Development, Management, Quotes. Bookmark the permalink.

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