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There’s a reason we call ourselves Human Resources, not Employee Resources. Entire human beings walk through your office doors (physically or virtually) to work every day. People don’t let their stresses, weaknesses, conflicts or needs go outside – the role of employee is only part of their human personality.

For this reason, it is crucial for HR to take on multiple roles when employees could use additional resources to manage personal issues.

the tightrope walker

The role of HR touches the life of every employee in a company, so we often have a window into people’s most trying experiences. Some sadly common experiences like the death of an elderly family member or expected (but still trying) situations like the birth of a child are easy to deal with when we let the manual guide and dictate. Because these things happen so frequently, it’s crucial to maintain consistent expectations across the business.

Then there are times when employees’ lives intersect with rare incidents like terminal diagnoses, critical accidents, natural disasters, and untimely deaths. At times like these, it may pay to throw the manual out the window. To hell with bereavement benefits – if an employee loses a child, they will need more than two days off.

This is when HR must become a tightrope walker. You have to balance the needs of the business and the employees. You have to walk the line between manual and exception. You have to be prepared to accept that you might also be criticized for this. But at the end of the day, it’s about what’s best for the whole and understanding that sometimes creating fairness requires deviation.

The consultant

Not all problems are HR’s problem. Great HR leaders continually give managers autonomy, responsibility, and accountability for their own team’s performance. When managers are empowered, many personal employee issues can be resolved with HR acting solely as consultants.

For example, when two employees have interpersonal conflicts that impact performance, a manager might shout, “HR, take the wheel!” when they are, in fact, better equipped to handle the situation. After all, managers should know the intricacies of their teams better than anyone. HR should check for documented harassment and can provide suggestions, but the manager should make the decisions because the manager (not HR) is responsible for the performance of the team.

Then, if problems persist, the manager is ultimately responsible for making any personnel changes that may be necessary to maintain the performance of his team (and, as a whole, the company). When HR keeps managers at the helm, it saves us from getting bogged down in day-to-day drama. So back off when you can.

The confidant

Whether you attribute it to Voltaire, Churchill, or the Spider-Man comics, you know the maxim: with great power comes great responsibility. You know a lot of information, and other people know it. Trust is the currency of human relationships and employees look for this trait in you even before they need your confidentiality.

So start building your credibility now. Even in HR, there is really very little reason to discuss the context surrounding an employee with another person. Stick to accessories.

One of the greatest strengths you can develop as a leader, and the best gift you can give another person, is confidentiality. When employees face personal issues, they are incredibly vulnerable; your sensitivity to this fact can be part of their healing.

The empath

You didn’t sign up to be a therapist, but as a third party often involved in delicate situations, there are times when you may feel like one. That being said, don’t assume this is what every situation or every employee requires. Instead, channel your inner empathy.

Read the situation. A stoic employee asking for specific outcomes (e.g. “How do I get my future ex-wife off my health insurance?”) may seek to get in, out, and get on with their life. Keeping things in place and light can be a relief for them.

For employees who seem to need professional therapy (and frankly, who doesn’t?), be prepared to provide insight into your company’s situation. Mental Health advantages. Provide information about resources like an employee assistance program so employees can get emotional support beyond your shoulder to cry.

the veteran

There really is no substitute for personal experience. And while you shouldn’t build your HR team using a grim Bingo card of human tragedies to mark each member’s personal history, building a diverse team will naturally give you a deeper well to tap into.

With a diverse team, you’ll be able to brainstorm use cases to create thoughtful programs and benefits that will help employees through tough times. From personal experiences, your HR team will be able to create checklists to ensure that personal issues are handled as effectively as possible.

It’s also helpful for HR team members to have personal relationships with the employees they work with, which is another reason why a HR Business Partner Model is very useful. A one-person HR team cannot know all the team members. An HR Business Partner who is embedded in specific areas of the business is much more likely to have personal experience with specific employees that they can use to inform their actions.

The producer

No matter the life event, if it’s new to the employees, it probably adds stress. HR can help employees process the details of momentous occasions (good or bad) by putting resources and to-dos in place and backing out.

For example, in the event of a divorce, employees likely need to consider changing benefits, emergency contacts, or named beneficiaries. By laying out the tasks at hand and allowing employees to take action on their own, HR can erase some of the unknowns while giving employees the space and dignity they need to make these changes at their convenience.

Perhaps the best resource HR can provide to an employee in need is an educated and empathetic manager. Most often, the manager hears directly when an employee experiences an important event. This is why the proactive training of managers is crucial.

In difficult times, employees generally don’t need or want HR to get high. Instead, we can align their resources, surround them with support, and empower them to take the next steps with confidence.

HR and personal issues

Life is hard, but as HR professionals, we have the opportunity to help employees overcome their personal problems. By thoughtfully navigating our many roles during difficult times, we can make a big difference both in the lives of employees and, therefore, in the performance and reputation of our business.

Read more: HR professionals see morale and engagement as top priorities

Anita Grantham joined BambooHR in 2022 as Head of Human Resources, bringing with her a long history of creating award-winning workspaces that empower people to do great work. As a people and culture-focused leader with experience in a variety of industries including technology, cloud-based marketing, construction/real estate, education and customer experience, Anita has developed talent from multiple angles and helped business leaders thrive in competitive environments. .