Savage counsel – how to be a sympathetic boss

Chris SavageEach month in Encore, Chris Savage tackles your career and agency dilemmas. This week he explores how to be a sympathetic boss. 

Dear Chris,

One of my team is having a bit of a rough time personally. Her boyfriend dumped her and she’s been a bit of a mess. I’m trying to be a sympathetic boss but it’s really starting to affect her work. How can I tell her to get her head back in the game without looking like a total prick?

Sometimes you do have to be cruel to be kind. I know that is a truism. But things become truisms because, wait for it, they are true.

You have been a sympathetic boss and you have given her time. Now you need to tell her the truth. She needs to get her head back in the game. It’s only fair on her colleagues and on you. The busier and more engaged she gets in work, the easier it will be for her to make progress generally in coping with her personal pressures.

So I reckon be absolutely direct. “I know you’re hurting. We are with you. We want to see you bounce back. We need you to get re-engaged in your work. I will work closely with you. Let’s set weekly goals. I’ll review these with you every week to ensure you are on track. And you can talk to me at any stage about how you’re feeling and what’s happening to you.”

Then work closely with her. If she steps up and gets into it, perfect. If she continues to struggle to focus then either give her time off to get her act together or give her notice.

Your ultimate responsibility is to your entire team. Of course be empathetic and generous. But there is a point when enough is enough.


Encore issue 32

This feature first appeared in EncoreDownload it now on iPad, iPhone and Android tablet devices.


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