Career coach: How to help when crisis strikes

When staff experience personal problems, there are ways of supporting them.

When it becomes evident that someone you manage is having a personal crisis, it will probably evoke memories of similar situations from your own experience. It will also open up thoughts, feelings and judgements of your own about what is happening to that person.

How can you best support that person, safeguard your organisation and maintain your own integrity?

Someone you work with may suffer a bereavement, become a carer, go through a relationship break-up or see a deterioration in his or her physical or emotional health. Sometimes more brutal and shocking things take place. Try not to become consumed by the crisis itself, and be assured that your colleague is in a process that they will eventually come through.

The process of being in crisis generally has three stages: the breakdown of an old way of thinking or being; a period of intense disorganisation; then reorganisation into a new way.

In the first stage of crisis, our deeply held beliefs are challenged and broken down: "I can't believe that she betrayed me", or "I'm now scared to walk down the street on my own", or "nothing will be the same again".

The second stage consists of intense disorganisation, which can take the form of insomnia and fatigue, confusion leading to errors of judgement and diminished performance, accidents, indiscretions, even 'moments of madness'. This behaviour can put severe strain on relationships. It's a hazardous situation for the person in crisis, and possibly a challenging position for you. It requires careful and supportive management.

Part of this management could be to ensure that your colleague is receiving emotional support and has economic security. Reaffirming the person's individual qualities and stressing the value of their performance before the crisis would help to give hope. Urge your colleague not to make major decisions during this time. Resist using disciplinary procedures during this most vulnerable period, because it could result in an extended crisis. Be aware that something that might look like rebellion could in fact be highlighting a need for a change in human resources policy. Above all, try not to take things too personally and allow the problems to become yours.

Your patience and support will be rewarded by watching your colleague come through the crisis.

- Amanda Falkson is a psychotherapist who runs monthly Tough at the Top groups for voluntary sector chief executives.


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