Tips for employers to help struggling employees

Sometimes, life gets in the way of a healthy work environment.

We all have times when we feel stuck in a task or can't seem to move forward with something – it's just as common in our personal lives as in our remote work. However, because work and life are often closely related, the same emotional or professional shortcomings that can hold us back at home can also affect the workplace we spend so much time at.

Employers need to understand that their employees' blocks can be a source of stress and frustration. But as a boss, there are ways you can help your team members handle their blocks and get back on track.

What causes a block?

When working on a new task, it's only natural to experience a little bit of anxiety. This is especially true in the workplace, where you might be unsure how your manager will receive your work or if it's even up to par with what other team members are doing.

But sometimes, anxiety can turn into a block. Some people will avoid the task entirely, while others might give it their best effort but end up feeling unsatisfied with the results – and everyone suffers because of it. In these cases, you might have a team member who needs help getting past their block and moving forward with their work.

What happens during a block?

Imagine this!

For the past few weeks, one of your employees has been struggling to get anything done. Whenever you give them a new task to take on, they put it off until later and then never seem to get around to doing it.

They're also becoming increasingly frustrated with their performance and the tasks you've given them. You don't want to push them or ask too many questions, but you need to help them figure out how they will get through this rough patch. A good employer will help team members deal with whatever prevents them from doing their jobs well.

Why employees are not able to perform

When employees feel blocked, it's easy for them to panic and think of the worst-case scenario – they might fear that they will be fired or that their tasks will be deemed failures.

However, when a boss is aware of an employee's block, it allows them to talk through what's happening without judgement. Employees appreciate having an outlet where they can express themselves freely and receive valuable advice from their superiors.

When an employee feels supported by their boss, it gives them the courage to try new things (even if those new things don't work out) and helps them feel less stressed about what's happening in the workplace.

There are several reasons why employees struggle to do their best at work. Some of the most common ones include:

  • Lack of motivation
  • Lack of self-confidence
  • Feeling overwhelmed by the amount of work that needs to be done
  • Not understanding what's expected of them or feeling like they don't have the right resources to do their job well
  • Feeling like they're not being recognized for their contributions
  • Feeling like they're not being valued by management and coworkers

How employers can help

Employers can offer a lot of support to employees struggling with a block, but the best way to help is to discover what's really stopping them and help them understand how these "blocks" are negative. If you are someone who has ever experienced writer's block or had trouble finishing a task, you know just how frustrating it can be. It's easy for an employer to simply tell their employees they need to get started already, but sometimes the culprit isn't their laziness or lack of motivation – it's something deeper than that.

The easiest way to help is by talking to them, but you can also offer suggestions and tips that may help them work through their issues.

Ask what's affecting them

It might seem kind of obvious – why wouldn't you ask? Employees may feel like they're being treated like children if you ask them point-blank if they're struggling with anything, so it helps to phrase it differently: Are there any problems you're facing right now that I could help you with? Do you need any advice? Hearing it expressed this way is less accusatory and will make your employee more likely to talk about their struggles without seeming like they're inconveniencing you or breaking down.

Offer training

You may have a team member who's excellent at their job, but they're struggling with the same issue you've been having for a long time: they can't seem to get anything done. Offer them some training on productivity systems, or give them access to a productivity coach that can help them break through their barriers.

If your employees don't want more training or support, implement a productivity system yourself. This can be as simple as creating a shared Google Doc that everyone checks in on every day at 9 am and 6 pm. This will remind your team of what needs doing and ensure that nothing gets forgotten or overlooked by accident.

Be supportive

Be supportive of any changes they need to make to get their job done; this could mean adjusting deadlines or workloads or asking for more resources from other departments outside of human resources if necessary.

Have an open door policy

Giving employees the space to express themselves and vent their frustrations is a good way to make them feel comfortable and appreciated. If they have trouble opening up, then make sure to give them time alone so they can collect themselves before speaking with you. And if they do open up, don't judge them for what happened; just listen and try to understand their feelings.

Be flexible

If a team member is having trouble with something outside of work – like a family member who is sick or struggling financially – you could offer support. You can do this by ensuring that your company has flexible policies for working from home or taking time off when necessary. This will avoid team members having to choose between helping out at home or losing paychecks themselves.

Be open

Each person is different. Some people need more space to create than others, so you may want to try some different strategies for motivating them. Other people might find it helpful if you offer some suggestions for how they can overcome a particular blockage. It wouldn't hurt to bring in some outside help from time to time; a mentor or therapist might be able to give some insight into what's going wrong and what they can do about it.

Get them to do something fun

Try getting them involved in a task they're enthusiastic about – that way, they'll have a goal they want to reach. Make sure not to pressure them into finishing it before it's ready; show your genuine interest in what they're doing by asking questions and offering feedback, but don't push them too hard just to get it done for the sake of getting it done.

Give them a break

Try giving them some time off from the source of the frustration – if they're blocked because of something at work, give them the weekend or vacation time so they can get away from work for a while. If you notice that something outside of work is causing their blockage (a bad relationship, financial problems), try suggesting ways to fix that problem on their own. It may be beneficial for you to bring up solutions when you find out what's causing their problem, as long as it isn't too invasive.

As a manager, it is essential to remember that your team members are people too. Make sure they feel comfortable being open with you and know that you will be non-judgmental and supportive.

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