Not Sure How to Save a Struggling Employee? Ask Madeleine

Dear Madeleine,

I’ve been a manager for over twenty years and I am facing a situation I just can’t handle. I have an employee—my hire—who has always been great, done great work, learned fast, had a positive attitude, and worked well with everyone. A cheery ray of sunshine on the team.

About six months ago, she started missing meetings with no explanation, calling in sick, and turning in work with errors. This coincided with her getting married. She got back from her honeymoon and just started melting down.

I have given her feedback on her work and have taken her to task for missing deadlines and meetings. When I do this, she just starts to cry. We have had several one on ones where I’ve asked her how she is doing. She is not willing or able to tell me what the heck is going on.

This situation is dragging down the whole team. Speculation about what is going on—including that her new husband is abusive—has become a full-time sport around here. Everyone is worried about her and looking at me to somehow come to her rescue. Please don’t tell me to go to HR—we are a small business and we don’t really have HR; it’s just me.

I’m going to have to let her go if she doesn’t turn things around. What should I do?


Dear Worried,

You sound kind. It is awful to watch people slide into the pit of despair. But here’s the thing: you can’t save people. And you really can’t save people who don’t want to be saved.

What you can do is continue to give feedback, be kind, and tell the truth. At this point, though, the truth might be something like “you will need to get it together or I will have to let you go. I am here to help you in any way I can, but I can’t help you if you don’t ask for help.”

That’s about it, Worried. It stinks. I know you hate it. I hate it, too. But I have made almost every mistake that can be made trying to save people, so I know this is true.

I’m sorry.

Love, Madeleine

About the author

Madeleine Blanchard Headshot 10-21-17

Madeleine Homan Blanchard is a master certified coach, author, speaker, and cofounder of Blanchard Coaching Services. Madeleine’s Advice for the Well Intentioned Manager is a regular Saturday feature for a very select group: well intentioned managers. Leadership is hard—and the more you care, the harder it gets. Join us here each week for insight, resources, and conversation.

Got a question for Madeleine? Email Madeleine and look for your response here next week!

Leave a Reply