November 15, 2023
February 17, 2022

Supporting Employees During Life Changes

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More and more companies are embracing phrases like, “people first” or “people over profits.” But how do you put these ideas into action? Remember that people have lives, families, and problems outside of work. Their responsibilities at work are just one part of who they are.

I think we can all agree that life isn’t easy. It has twists and turns. Some are expected, some are not. There are a few key things that you can do to support your employees through life events including, but not limited to: birth or death, illness or other health issues, divorce or breakups, adoption or fostering, transitions, or other changes. 

Show Empathy

Empathy is always important, but especially when people are going through a difficult time. While you may not know exactly what they’re going through, let them know you’re there for them. Take time to listen to concerns and ask them for needs they might have that you might not realize. As you listen to what they need you can help them do their best work while managing complicated life events.  

Imagine someone getting diagnosed with a chronic illness or losing a spouse suddenly. It’s going to be a shock to the system—suddenly the future they imagined is changed forever. Their work may suffer temporarily due to the shock and need to process. Try to lighten their load or help them prioritize the most important projects so they don’t have to deal with lots of projects and details in addition to all their life’s struggles.

Remember, people need different things. Maybe some people are ready to throw themselves into work because they need a distraction. The key to empathy is finding out what they need, not what you think they might need. 

Offer Flexibility

Does it really matter if an employee is in their seat right at 8:00 a.m.? Or could it be that it’s okay if they come in a little later and stay until their work gets done? While there are some jobs where people need to be in place at time to cover a shift, consider where you can offer flexibility. Emphasize getting the work done over putting in a set amount of hours. 

Allowing for flexible work schedules allows people to take time for things like doctor’s appointments for their kids. Maybe they missed sleep last night and being able to turn off the alarm and get an extra hour in the morning would make all the difference. Flexible schedules don’t just make employees happier and more productive; there are many other benefits to offering flexible work schedules.

Flexibility includes accepting that things don’t always go as planned. Someone setting out to adopt a child may have an idea how it will go, but it could have complications such as extra travel, paperwork problems, or other issues that arise. Don’t assume everyone’s experiences will be the same and allow for flexibility to cater to the individual’s needs. 

Ensure They Have Resources They Need

Do new moms need a private place to pump? Does someone with a recent injury need to be able to work from home for a while? Assess the needs (or when in doubt, ask) and make accommodations wherever possible. 

In addition to resources they might need at work, how else can you support them? With Awardco, you can set up a catalog of gifts and items for specific life events. For example, for a new baby you could create a catalog with diapers and other baby needs or you could send them a Bonus Box with baby supplies.

Another thing to consider is logistical or administrative needs a person might have. Does a newly divorced person need to change their name on all official channels? Has someone had a life event that may prompt them to change their health insurance outside of the normal enrollment period? Support your employees in requesting leave, time off, health insurance, and anything else they might need. 

Offer Guilt-Free Time Off

Whether someone needs to leave last-minute for a family emergency or take scheduled parental leave, make sure they feel like they can take the time off they need without guilt. Offer as generous of an amount of parental leave as you can. 

Recognize that parental leave, taking breaks to pump, and other instances of taking care of children are not just free vacation time. Those days and minutes off end up being a lot of, well, work. Babies aren’t always easy and pumping isn’t easy or glamorous in any way, especially when you’re trying to juggle it between meetings. 

Unlimited PTO policies can make it easier for people to take time off, but a policy only works if people feel like they can use it. Make sure your management encourages their teams to take time off when needed. 

Help Them See They’re Not Alone

Is there anyone else at the company that has been through a similar life event? You could reach out to individuals who might know how to help the person feel less alone and have them offer support and guidance. This could look like creating an employee resource group for women or a support group for parents. It could be as simple as a Slack channel to help people find each other. 

Note: While well-intentioned, you want to be careful not to broadcast any personal information an employee might not want to be shared with the entire company.

Show You Care and Recognize Their Efforts

Above all, let them know you care and recognize all the work they’re doing. When people have to take off work, it’s likely that they work extra hard when they are in to make up for it. Make sure you notice and appreciate the work they’re doing while still encouraging them to take the breaks they need. They, and you, will benefit from it.