One of the most difficult situations for an HR manager is when an employee says he or she is going through a personal crisis. While the situation differs for each employee, there are ways to handle all employee crises with skill, empathy and respect.

1. Have a plan in place

If your company does not already have a crisis management plan in place, consider devising one that outlines specific resources, accommodations and responses the company will offer in times of crisis. While each case is different and any official plan needs to retain flexibility, there are basic accommodations someone in crisis needs that will preserve the employer-employee relationship while exhibiting compassion in troubling times.

Having a plan in place shows prospective employees that you recognize that life can interfere temporarily with work and that you are willing to work with them should such a situation arise. A specific plan also makes the process easier for the company and the employees involved.

2. Be flexible

Scheduling a leave of absence, allowing for job sharing or partial day or week temp coverage are all appropriate responses based on the employee’s particular crisis. Working with the employee and allowing him or her to have the time needed to transition through the crisis builds loyalty and respect not just in that relationship, but throughout the team. Respect the employee’s needs and set up a timeframe for return to partial, then full duties. When the employee transitions back to work, be sure to continue the flexibility as needed.

3. Keep communication open and support ongoing

Keeping regular and positive communication going throughout the situation can help the employee feel connected and know that his or her job is still secure. If your company offers an Employee Assistance Program, be sure that the employee receives written information about all the support available so that he or she can follow up. If possible, have someone from the EAP team follow up.

Cost-effective ways to keep communication open and continue the support throughout the crisis is to provide referrals for a variety of services, such as eldercare, pet care and child care. You could provide area business coupon packs, gift certificates for restaurants, grocery stores, or passes to the local movie theater to show the employee ongoing tokens of support in their time of crisis without intruding on personal privacy.

4. Support the re-entry

When an employee has suffered a catastrophic loss or other life-altering event, he or she may feel ready to return to work, but might also feel that confidences have been shaken or that fellow employees will have questions. Taking time before the employee officially returns to work out a flexible schedule, adjust duties, provide a mentor if necessary, and to meet with co-workers to outline expectations are all ways to help the employee transition back to work as smoothly as possible. Schedule regular update sessions and make adjustments as necessary.

Goals: Retain talent, build loyalty

Seasoned HR managers know that handling personnel challenges when an employee is in crisis is among the most challenging of tasks. Having a strong but flexible program in place that outlines company support helps make the response consistent and timely. Working with the employee with flexibility and a personally detailed response helps retain talent and build loyalty.

This post was provided by Erin Palmer of Bisk Education on behalf of University Alliance. Erin works with programs such as Villanova University’s HR masters online.

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