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Leading Employees Through Personal Crisis

Wednesday, July 31, 2019 9:00 AM

Case Studies, Leadership

Written by: Elizabeth Monroe

Introduction by Laura Baldwin, certified leadership coach: Today’s leaders are tasked with multiple responsibilities in helping organizations meet their goals, which requires many skills and characteristics. One of the greatest duties leaders have is creating an environment of support that allows each team member to be successful. During challenging times for staff, leaders must embrace a key characteristic of emotional intelligence — empathy. Empathy allows us to understand the emotions of other people and treat them according to their emotional needs and responses, helping to provide the right support at the right moments. Many thanks to Elizabeth, who shares how the empathy shown to her has helped her remain successful during a difficult time.

Elizabeth Monroe
Senior Consultant

As leaders within an organization, it is imperative for us to understand the impact we have on our employees. When I ran an ophthalmology practice in Florida, I always tried hard to support my staff professionally and personally. Naturally, over the years, each member of my team encountered the joys and tragedies of the human experience. During tough times, I had staff and physicians lose family members and co-workers, suffer financial loss, experience divorce, have problems with their kids, and so on.

In every instance, I did my best as a leader to extend empathy and compassion. My practice’s leadership team also went above and beyond to help — sometimes through the practice and other times by personally providing an aiding hand. Over the years, several of my former staff have reached out to express gratitude and share what working together meant to them. While their stories warmed my heart, I never imagined the true impact a leader can have when supporting an employee through a crisis — until I experienced this support myself from BSM Consulting.

My BSM Support Team

Though I have been with BSM since August 2013, I felt the true support of the company’s leadership in November when my 22-year marriage dissolved. With that event, I found myself facing some of the darkest days of my life; and yet, my BSM family was always there, committed to seeing me through this challenging time. I honestly do not know what I would have done without the support of this company.

First, Bruce Maller, BSM Founder and CEO, invited me to transfer to our Phoenix, Ariz., office. As I no longer had family in Florida, relocating seemed like a good idea. Since I arrived, Bruce and his wife, Cass, have been incredible mentors to me, often sharing their home, inviting me to dinner, and making sure that I am doing well.

Secondly, Judy Williams, BSM President, has extended such grace and understanding toward me. Over the course of these past months, I have grieved deeply and sometimes was unable to work. Judy supported me, gave me permission to take time off as needed, and helped me shift my workload such that I had time to handle a myriad of personal issues.

Lastly, my BSM co-workers — indeed, my family — offered me friendship and kindness beyond what I could conceive. They called me, checked on me, took the lead on client projects, sent gifts, visited me in Arizona, and sometimes simply listened. They have been the loyal and steadfast friends you want when you go through your worst of times.

Creating a Company Support System

As I reflect on my journey, which continues every day, I have learned a great deal about how companies can lead their employees through times of great personal duress. Below are a few takeaways I learned from BSM.

  1. Give time. Loyal employees will often be extremely grateful when granted time to deal with personal issues. Though the company may experience a temporary loss in productivity, giving staff flexibility can increase production once they return to a full workload. After coming through my experience, I have a renewed dedication to the company and our customers.
  2. Be understanding. When employees in crisis do come into work, recognize that their ability to think and respond may be altered. Due to their circumstances, they may experience days or situations where they are not at their best. Personally, I am thankful my company understood who I am, focused on my intentions to be a good employee, and helped me through it all.
  3. Consider employee needs. Whenever possible, it is helpful to determine if any professional steps can be taken to aid a distressed employee. For example, BSM realized that moving to Arizona would benefit both me and the company, as my relocation resulted in several related opportunities. Namely, I was present for the BSM Leadership Summit and a recent American Society of Ophthalmic Administrators (ASOA) board meeting — both of which allowed me to work toward carrying a full workload again.
  4. Show personal concern. Whenever possible, leadership should take an active interest in its employees’ personal lives. Doing so will enable the company to better provide emotional support during times of duress. I am grateful the BSM leadership team consistently continues to check on my emotional well-being even after returning to my usual workload.
  5. Avoid drama. While companies should work to support employees, leadership must never feed into the drama of personal situations. If personal turmoil begins seeping into the workplace, it’s often beneficial to gently redirect the employee’s focus to the company’s core values. At BSM, this means focusing on exercising personal accountability. While I am not perfect, I tried to conduct myself through honesty, integrity, and responsibility during my trying time.

Continue the Healing Process

As my life continues to move forward, I will not pretend that I am healed. I have experienced transformation on every level — even my last name has changed from Holloway to Monroe! Having gone through a trying situation and learned these difficult lessons, I know they will ultimately impact my ability to be a better leader. Not only will I be forever indebted to BSM for helping me grow during this difficult time, but the tremendous grace the company has shown me proves that great leaders value people above the bottom line.

YOUR TURN: What are some other ways leadership can support staff going through a personal crisis? We’d love to know. Please leave your comment in the section below.  

8 Comments

  • Susan Moss said Reply

    A very touching and pertinent post. Our philosophy at Fox Valley Ophthalmology is similar to what you have experienced. We have been able to assist many employees through crisis over the years. Consequently, we have many long-term employees who recognize our loyalty and reward us with theirs. Having gone through an unexpected divorce myself many years ago, I agree that a work family can make a tremendous difference. After 20-plus years of retrospection, I can attest that I am tremendously blessed and so happy with the career I was able to pursue. Take care, and the best is yet to come.

    • BSMAdmin said Reply

      Susan, thank you for sharing your perspective from Fox Ophthalmology, as well as your personal story. I agree that vulnerability instills loyalty and trust within our organizations, and when we extend compassion to our staff, we, as leaders, often benefit from long-term work relationships. Like you, I also am very grateful for the career I have had thus far in medicine. The doctors, staff, and now the crew at BSM have become my family.
      Warm Regards,
      Elizabeth Monroe

  • Sue Salm said Reply

    Grace and strength ... that’s you Elizabeth. You are in my thoughts and prayers. Healing is a process; one day at a time! Be present and enjoy the moment!♥️🙏🙌😊

  • Patricia Kennedy, BSM Senior Consultant said Reply

    You, lovely lady, are the epitome of grace and class. I am grateful to call you my co-worker and friend. You writing this blog post was an act of bravery and, I hope, healing. Watching you negotiate this new chapter in your life is awe-inspiring. You will always have a place with me. Much love to you and your fur babies!

  • Lisa said Reply

    Compassion for employees is key. We recently had an employee find out she had cancer, which had returned. She was given some pretty hard news. She soon could not work. Leadership put together a wonderful benefit for her and her family to help in her time of need. We raised over $5,000 with the support of our employees, doctors, and the community. Not only did she see the love that her work family had for her, but the employees felt that our company truly cares for them. This is just one example of compassion toward others in their time of need. Our fellow co-worker has since passed, but we are all thankful that we could show her, in some way, how much she meant. I feel truly blessed to be a part of the company I work for.

    • BSMAdmin said Reply

      Hi Lisa,

      Thank you for sharing this story. It's an excellent example of how practice leadership and staff can support a fellow co-worker in a time of need.

  • Glenn Morley, BSM Senior Consultant said Reply

    Your candor in this post is such a gift to us all. Because you are one who always leads the way in modeling empathy, your words regarding the healing you have accomplished and the strength you have rebuilt by receiving empathy truly resonated. I’m already making a list of friends, colleagues, and clients who will want to read your story.

  • Liz Parrott said Reply

    I’m so very sorry for what has been a painful chapter in you life. If we are lucky in this journey, we find a professional life with a group of people who aren’t just co-workers, but family. No doubt you found that with BSM, a company that, to me, nurtures and cares for employees as a family would.

    When I was administrator at Raleigh Ophthalmology, we experienced hardships with some employees ... divorce, cancer, hard times, and even the death of a beloved co-worker. There was nothing more heartwarming than observing the other employees rally around in support. Many offered their PTO to others in need. Christmas gifts were bought for young children. Food was delivered. Others picked up more of the load to enable someone more time off.

    Through those dark times, we all realized the importance of each other. We were family, and I was humbled by their generosity, not only in time and money, but their loving spirit.

    Elizabeth, I wish you many happy days ahead, both personally and professionally.

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