Hello All,

I have been listening to manager tools for some time now and have got a lot of great advice! Now I need something a little more specific...

I have a direct who's new wife has cancer and may be terminal within just a couple of months. I want to impart as much grace as possible in allowing him to go to the doctor with her and be with her as much as possible. However, there is only a few of us and I need to be able to rely on everyone, when one goes down that's 25% of our force. Up to now he has been a model employee first in last out, great attitude, etc. now that's flip flopped. So the long and the short of it is: My directs performance and attendance has suffered because his wife has terminal cancer. How can I impart grace and help him improve his performance here?...

Thanks to all who reply.

Anandha's picture
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If one of my direct's wife was seriously ill, I'd tell him to take all the time he needs to spend with this loved ones. And come back to work when he is good and ready. That there will always be a job waiting for him. That if he needs support from me in any way he has it. And if he needs support from the company, I'll help him with that as well.

And don't worry about work for a minute. Don't worry about the team. Don't worry about the company. I'll take care of it. Go spend time with your wife and loved ones.

My 2p. Good luck.



dent's picture

If you believe that "family comes first" then don't doubt yourself; Anandha has it right.  Support him during this time.  If the rest of the team knows about the situation (not from you, I hope), ask them to support him too.

You've said that this direct has been a top performer up to now; I'm sure he knows it (especially if you've been doing regular one-on-ones and feedback and have a good relationship with him as a result), and I'm sure he knows that his job performance lately has not been great.  He may well already feel guilty about the way his behavior is affecting the rest of the team.  So, unless his behavior is an immediate risk to the rest of the team or his own employment, now is not the time to impose additional stress on him by asking him to improve his performance, or having him infer that he might lose his job (and/or health benefits his family obviously needs).  So, tell him that: "Bob, I want you to know that I understand that you and your wife are going through a very difficult time right now.  You've always been a top performer, and I want to reassure you in case you're worried about the effect it's been having on your job performance."  (Anandha's suggestions for what to say are fantastic; there's no need for me to try to improve upon those!)

If his behavior really is harmful to the team (perhaps stress, lack of sleep, etc. are contributing to his snapping at his team mates) then you do need to take action: you owe it to him to be honest about the impact his behavior is having.  The "New Direct - First Day Meeting" cast sets the stage: honesty and kindness come before performance.


I think this is one of those "be the change you want to see in the world" moments.  Think ahead to the potential outcomes of this situation.  Your direct's wife will either get better, or... she won't.  How will you and your team judge yourselves then based on your actions now, in either case?  Did your team come together to support him during a difficult time, becoming stronger as a result?  Or did this event lead to the team believing that performance numbers are more important than any of them?


duplicate_account_MarkAus's picture

Are you doing O3s?  To my way of thinking, this is an example of where O3s really make a difference.  What a great forum for honest discussion around possible options and plans to work through this difficult period.   If you haven't got that relationship this will be a lot harder for everyone.

If you have O3s, I don't think you want to offer much beyond simple feedback.   If you both approach the situation honestly, he'll want to do the best job he can.  Talk over available options and make achievable plans together.   

Performance Management is not really right here - you both know why his performance is slipping and neither of you have much power to make things different.

I agree with the above posts - you want to give him as much help as possible. No doubt he will recogise what you and the team have done/are doing and will appreciate it.   If he's good he'll show gratitude to you and the company later down the track.

Are you able to bring in a temp or short term contractor?   It wouldn't necessarily need to be someone very experienced - even a work experience person may help.   (I don't know your industry or situation) Get your team to delegate the "lowest level" of work to the temp, and enable the team to pick up the more critical work usually done by your missing direct.

If you can't get budget for a temp or contractor, you're going to need everyone to Delegate To The Floor (as per the podcast of the same title) so team members can pick up additional work.

mattpalmer's picture

"Performance Management is not really right here - you both know why his performance is slipping and neither of you have much power to make things different."

I can't imagine a better phrasing of the crux of the issue.  I hope that I will recall it when and if I have to deal with a similar problem.


DinOleader's picture

Thank you all for your wisdom! There is only a few of us on the floor (4 actually) so O3's happen regularly and are less scheduled and more as needed, praise or discipline. Because there are so few of us we all have a very tight relationship, so that makes it easy to be honest and open. As for a temp, all of our jobs are pretty technical and without a lot of training we only have so much for him to do... However, one of the guys will be getting married and moving in May, so a new hire may be in order regardless. It is and was always my plan to give my guys as much grace as possible, within reason of course, this is certainly no exception! It is important to me to give as much grace as I have and do receive. Thank you again for all your wisdom! This is a big deal and I wanted some objective third party thoughts, I'm thankful they lined up with mine!

robertwilliams's picture

If you're in the USA, he's legally entitled to up to 12 weeks of unpaid FMLA leave and you would be legally required to hold a spot open for him when he returned.  You have no choice but to "give him grace" and figure out how to manage without him.  Look at it this way - he could legally burn all his vacation time and then take 12 weeks of FMLA to care for her, and you'd simply have to deal with that.

kpsi355's picture

Get someone relatively quickly, and start them on the tasks that both your underperformer and another person does- not necessarily the person who's moving. You want the experienced guys doing the critical tasks, on the off-chance that you have to fire the new guy (wrong fit, etc). You want to evaluate the new guy. And you want all of it done, without having to choose between working too much overtime or having to Delegate To The Floor a task you don't have to.

mmartini's picture
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I was in the position of your direct once.  Might soon be again.  I went to my boss and said simply, I have to go, my team can handle the relative light load we have coming up.  My boss did not even blink, and gave some tremendous suggestions on how to deal with the situation by working remotely through another office close to the afflicted family member.  The result was, I was able to telecommute quite a bit.  It kept my sanity as a caretaker and I was still able to make some contributions at work.  And I will never, ever forget and remain eternally grateful.  Talk about a way to get people to carry your water in the future, this is the hands down best.