Although most of us do our best to separate our personal and professional lives, there are some events that make that division impossible. A colleague needs to leave work early every week to see their child or spouse through chemotherapy treatments. An executive is dealing with the loss of a close family member. A co-worker is trying to muddle his or her way through a divorce and subsequent custody battle.
Life happens, even on company time. And when it does, there’s far more that you can do for the person (and your company) than circulate a sympathy card for everyone to sign and place a bouquet of flowers on their desk. Here’s how to support a colleague or executive through a personal crisis at work without overstepping your bounds.
First and Foremost, Be Available
During a crisis, one of the best things you can do for the person affected is offer to take up some of the slack. Even if they’re able to be in the office, their mind is probably somewhere else, and they’ll appreciate the help.
But don’t just dive in. Instead, have a short conversation about where they most need assistance. “Would it be better if I took A or B off your plate this week? I have X amount of time free, and I’d be happy to help.”
Clearly communicate what you can (and can’t) do. You don’t want to overpromise and then come to them last minute and apologize because something you said you’d do isn’t yet done.
Rally the Troops
Once the news of the crisis is common knowledge (and never before), you may want to meet with others in your department to brainstorm some ways to help your executive or colleague.
Can you rearrange schedules? Facilitate food deliveries? Divvy up clients, projects, etc. to help cover for someone who will be out of the office for an extended period of time?
The more people you have on board, the better you’ll be able to handle a crisis, and the smoother your office will run in the meantime.
Ditch the Generic “Let Me Know What I Can Do”
In the midst of a crisis, the person affected will likely be bombarded with offers of help – but it’s often more draining to figure out how to direct these well-meaning offers than it is to just do it themselves.
Instead, ask open ended questions. “What two things can I do for you this week that will allow you to focus on something you need to do for yourself?”
Self-care is huge during a crisis – but it’s often the very last thing the person experiencing the crisis thinks about. Encourage your executive or co-worker to take time for themselves, whether that means hitting the gym for the first time in weeks, having an extended lunch with a close friend or family member, or just having some downtime to relax. Be their accountability partner to ensure it actually happens.
Procedures Help You Prepare for Crises – Yours or Someone Else’s
No one has a crystal ball that will tell you exactly when a crisis will strike, but procedures help you and your colleagues prepare for it when it happens. If you never need them, fantastic – but if you do, procedures can save you and your organization plenty of time and stress.
From my perspective, procedures are one of the best things you can do for yourself, your executives, and your colleagues. Encouraging everyone in your office to create a procedures manual specific to their job duties makes it much easier for others to fill in at a moment’s notice.
No one should ever be trying to do their work from an emergency room or a funeral home (unless they’re employed there). Procedures can’t prevent a crisis from happening, but they can absolutely help your entire organization stay on track when it does.
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Julie Perrine, CAP-OM, is the founder and CEO of All Things Admin, providing training, mentoring and resources for administrative professionals worldwide. Julie applies her administrative expertise and passion for lifelong learning to serving as an enthusiastic mentor, speaker and author who educates admins around the world on how to be more effective every day. Learn more about Julie’s books — The Innovative Admin: Unleash the Power of Innovation in Your Administrative Career and The Organized Admin: Leverage Your Unique Organizing Style to Create Systems, Reduce Overwhelm, and Increase Productivity, and Become a Procedures Pro: The Admin’s Guide to Developing Effective Office Systems and Procedures.