what to do when everyone on my team is experiencing a personal life crisis

A reader writes:

I work in a small office of three people – a director, myself (assistant director), and a coordinator. We are Human Resources and provide support to a workplace of around 350 employees who are in constant need of support for a variety of issues. We pride ourselves on being a great company to work for, and a great on-site location underneath that umbrella, and are required to work in the office on M-F, 8-5 pm with no exceptions. I am struggling to figure out how to operate in a way that is fair for all employees while also being fair to our department as employees ourselves!

We are in a situation where all three of us in HR are experiencing some level of crisis in our personal lives. My director’s family is going through an intense change as their spouse is out of work and out of commission, leaving her as both the primary caregiver to her young children and her spouse, requiring a lot of last-minute schedule changes and a requirement for flexibility. Our coordinator is experiencing some (undisclosed) mental health issues that seem to also be affecting their attendance, and while they have not come forward to have a discussion about the bigger picture yet, continue to say vague things such as “I don’t know if I can keep going in this way,” “I think I need to make a change soon,” “My family notices how sad I am and think I need to step away,” etc. (Just to note – we’ve discussed their workload and their happiness in their role multiple times following these comments and they insist they are happy, not burnt out, and do not feel overwhelmed with work, but do acknowledge that their personal life is affecting them.)

Then there’s me, who just recently found out I am pregnant and experiencing a high-risk pregnancy. We are thrilled … but overwhelmed by the amount of time and focus it will take for appointments, restrictions, and potential hospitalizations over the next seven months. I have not shared this news at work because the other two members of my department appear to be so overwhelmed …but so am I! Not to mention that the function of our department is meant to provide support to 350 others dealing with these exact scenarios (or more).

I’m struggling to figure out how we’re going to manage the next year with us all needing to pull back on the normally work-focused drive that we are used to. I may be stuck in the middle of a doom cycle, but I can’t stop thinking that we’re going to be stuck “ranking” needs on days where we all may need to be out, fighting each other on workloads, feeling resentment towards each other if their situation “wins out,” and also managing stress around our own situations. I have highlighted these issues to my director and she agrees, but is also stuck in the middle of her own personal issues as well and doesn’t have the bandwidth to come up with a solution right now.

We strive really hard not to be considered the typical HR department that is just there for the employer, phones in the job, and gives the bare minimum. That may be coloring my way to see a solution here, but feeling a little helpless about the best way to move forward for all.

I don’t think you should put off disclosing out of a desire to avoid additional stress for the rest of your department. If you’re not ready to disclose yet for other reasons, definitely wait until you are — but if the only thing holding you back is concern over what it will mean for them, don’t let that stop you from announcing now.

That’s because the situation is what it is regardless of when you disclose … but by waiting, you’re delaying the day of reckoning that needs to happen. It might be that your director is figuring she can lean heavily on you over the next months. If she can’t, she needs to know. (Frankly, that wouldn’t be a great plan even if you weren’t pregnant because it puts such a large burden on you and sets up a single point of failure … but realistically, sometimes that’s where these situations end up.) It could be that your announcement is the thing that makes your team realize, “OK, we need to change something because this won’t be sustainable.”

As for what that change would be … maybe you bring in short-term support for a while, like a (skilled) temp or time-limited contract role. Maybe you borrow someone from another team who’s interested in getting HR experience. Maybe your director has been mulling pushing for a fourth slot for a while and decides now’s the time. Maybe none of that is possible and so you’ve got to streamline the team’s work, pushing back everything that’s not crucial or time-sensitive or even outsourcing some of the more routine work. I don’t know what the solution will end up being, but I do know your team won’t find one (or even go looking for one) unless they’re clear on the need. So make them clear on the need (again, only once you’re ready to announce). And if your director doesn’t have the bandwidth to figure it out right now, propose some of the above.

(Also, I’m sure you realize this, but your coordinator is telling you they might not be there in a few months. Account for that in your planning too.)

{ 129 comments… read them below }

  1. Alton Brown's Evil Twin*

    I sympathize with your dilemma, OP.

    I’m the one person on my team who isn’t dealing with personal problems right now; I’ve literally been the only person available to talk to a number of important clients this week.

    And I think you’re putting extra pressure because you’re in HR (you’re supposed to help other people! that’s what you’re for!). So you feel like you’re letting everybody else down. But don’t forget what they tell you on the airplane – put on your mask first before helping others. You can’t be a good HR department if you’re stressed out, and you aren’t modeling good wellness-seeking-behavior to everyone else. So do as Alison says – get some temp help.

    1. Beth*

      Seconding this–you can’t set yourself on fire to keep others warm. That just burns you out, and then no one gets warmed.

      One thing that’s striking me here, OP, is that you’re the assistant director and yet it’s you–not your director–trying to solve this. I hear you that she’s overloaded and struggling! But she has more power than you to fix this. I do think you should share your news with her, even if you aren’t ready to share with the organization broadly. She needs to know that this is a pending problem in her department, and she needs to be looped in on (or, ideally, driving) the process of finding a solution.

      In addition to hiring help, one thing you should consider is loosening your WFH policy. Even if being in the office is ideal for your job (which I don’t know if it is), sometimes practicality has to reign–and having someone online and providing coverage via phone/email/slack is better than having all three of you OOO on the same day because your only options were being in the office 8am-5pm or taking PTO. I don’t know whether this is something you have authority to propose, whether it’s a decision your director could make, or whether it’s something you both would need to bring to someone higher up, but it’s worth looking into.

      1. Kristin*

        Yeah, I can see it being important to have ONE person onsite at all times, but going to a 3/2 or 2/3 onsite/WFH schedule would probably relieve a lot of pressure from your team while giving you all a bit of breathing room.

    2. ferrina*

      put on your mask first before helping others. You can’t be a good HR department if you’re stressed out, and you aren’t modeling good wellness-seeking-behavior to everyone else.

      This. You can’t burn yourself out and put yourself through a terrible experience to protect others- it might work for a short while, but it always is worse for everyone in the long term (speaking from personal experience and experience of others).
      Do what you have to to get through this. Bring the others in on the conversation- figure out what each of you can do. Bring on temps. See if there’s an internal person who can be loaned to your department part-time (hard to do in HR, but there may be some tasks you can temporarily offload).

  2. BlondeSpiders*

    This seems like the perfect time to bring a contractor in to help out. There are many skilled temporary HR folks out there!

    1. Anonym*

      This was my thought in the midst of reading. Contractor, contractor, contractor!

      Also, I’m not knowledgeable in this area so feel free to disregard, but only three people supporting an organization of 350 doesn’t seem like enough. Maybe you could bring on another full time employee?

      1. FricketyFrack*

        Nah, you’re not wrong. That’s pretty low. I work for a municipality with about 300-350 employees, depending on the season, and we have 6 HR staff members. There’s a director, three people who serve as the primary point of contact for their assigned set of departments for hiring, employee issues, etc, someone who handles benefits, and a risk manager. There’s no way we could function with 3 people.

      2. A Girl Named Fred*

        This was my thought too – I don’t know much about actually running a business either, but only three HR folks in an org with 350 people seems like a ratio that’s doomed to fail. Maybe it’s always been perfectly fine up until now, but… oof.

      3. Baunilha*

        That caught my eye as well. My organization also has 3 HR people, but there are only 50 employees. Sounds like OP’s team is overworked and understaffed.

        1. TechWorker*

          Huh, that ratio also sounds high to me :p we had one part time HR person for a company of 60 and I don’t remember it ever being a disaster. Likely depends on scope of responsibilities; perhaps some things are ‘HR’ in some companies and just the managers job in others.

          1. bamcheeks*

            It’s also going to depend on what you’ve outsourced, whether that’s formal outsourcing specific work that other companies might do in-house, or having bought in a software system that automates some work.

      4. Brain the Brian*

        Definitely not enough HR staff even if everyone were operating at full capacity. The rule I’ve always read is two per 100, which works out to seven staff in this case. Other circumstances (small, far-away field sites each requiring an onsite HR person, for instance) can raise that number even more. Three for a company of this size is too small – in part because, as you’re finding out now, no one can take any time off without it all falling apart! No wonder your coordinator is burned out.

        1. So they all cheap-ass rolled over and one fell out*

          This stuck out to me too. I am not in HR at all but 2 per 100 seems about what I have had at employers of similar size.

      5. Manic Pixie HR Girl*

        Definitely not sustainable. Large organizations can operate on an economy of scale and make it seem like, for example, “well we have 30 people to support 3000 employees, so 3 should be plenty to support 350!” but small organizations still need a minimum level of support, and at least some redundancies built in. On top of that, also no option for remote work (which I am not casting judgment on, merely recognizing that remote work can sometimes allow for a lack of redundancy to be more sustainable, at least in the short term).

      6. sheworkshardforthemoney*

        That was also my first thought. Three people supporting that number of people is unsustainable. You need at least 6-8 people to function effectively.

      7. Laura*

        Yeah, ages ago I worked in an org that had a little under 50 people in it and we had 2 or 3 or THAT number.

    2. Momma Bear*

      I agree. Stress is not good for pregnancy, especially a high-risk one. I’d disclose and then make the suggestion to hire someone at least PT to fill in and help lessen the load. That person might also be tapped to fill in while you are on maternity leave, too. Or maybe you can offer a long-term role to someone who wants flexibility but can work not quite full time. Job sharing, so to speak.

    3. Seeking Second Childhood*

      To me it sounds like a great time for a temp-to-perm. Sure, you have to buy out the contract–but think of that coat as farming out the hiring to an agency. And maybe with 4 people to share the workload your coordinator will thrive instead of flee.

  3. SBT*

    Consider searching for and hiring a fractional support. I was in this exact spot years ago when I had one employee going through a divorce and two who went out on maternity leave around the same time. I took on so much extra worked and so many balls got dropped. I remember my boss suggesting a temp, and I kept thinking to myself that a temp couldn’t fill in for three Director-level roles.

    Now I run my own business doing exactly that – providing fractional support in HR/talent for roles that require extensive skills, knowledge, or experience. I’ve filled in as a Chief People Officer, HR Business Partner, Director of Talent Operations, Director of Recruitment – you name it. I fill in for a lot of leaves and for teams just needing temporary support.

    It sounds like your team might already be understaffed, so I really hope y’all have the resources to bring in some high-level help during this time. Sending positive thoughts your way!

    1. SJR*

      100% agree with this. A friend owns a similar practice, and she positions her company as “Your full service part-time HR”. They’re incredibly skilled, can perform high level duties, but don’t mind the lower level nitty gritty – because they don’t only do that!

      This can be an easier sell than another full time position, or a temp who might not be able to do all the work you need. Plus, if it works well, you’ve got a great new relationship with a contractor who can pinch hit when other scenarios arise.

    2. Ama*

      I’m at a nonprofit and we frequently contract with a consulting firm that specializes in providing a wide range of temporary and contract help to medical research nonprofits. For us they primarily do event planning, but I was chatting with the consultant who helped with our last event and she does everything from event planning, to project managing strategic planning initiatives, to providing coverage for people on leave. Basically any type of role a nonprofit would need temporary help with, they can cover. It’s been really great because we’ve had several absences we’ve had to handle over the past 18 months (from maternity and caretaker leave to people who had a meltdown and quit with no notice to unfortunately a colleague who passed from a sudden illness).

      I would definitely encourage OP to push for some kind of skilled temporary help to get through this period.

    3. Camelid coordinator*

      This is such a great service. I used to direct a three person office, and one summer I came back from vacation and everyone else went on medical leave. Like you mentioned I had trouble imagining how anyone could tackle the higher-level tasks. Doing the work of three people was too much for me for sure though. For the assistant Director role I ended up hiring a temporary employee who was more of a generalist and had helped out in other offices in my division, which turned out great.

  4. M2*

    Can you ask the director about growing the team? Can you hire another coordinator or maybe an associate director? Is there a firm
    that you could use for the next few months who could help with some of the work (if your company has the funds for that). The director should talk to whoever is their boss about adding to the team even temporarily. You could hire for a limited term appointment or look into a temp agency to send someone for a few months?

    When I had a high risk pregnancy and had appointments I would log back on after hours and do work while at home/ in bed. My doctor said it was fine. I received 6 months of paid parental leave and wanted to use that time
    Later. I went on FMLA but didn’t take many days because I didn’t want to work unpaid. I had banked up vacation and sick leave too. Talk to your doctor and see what they recommend.

    Don’t tell your boss if you are not comfortable but I find it is good to tell them as soon as you are so that planning can start. What will you do if your director goes on leave and you’re acting director? Things to all think about. I would not hire another coordinator if they will be doing director or manager level work.

  5. atalantanta*

    I think OP is using them/them pronouns for the coordinator you referenced in your last parenthetical, Alison. FYI!

  6. N^n*

    […] are required to work in the office on M-F, 8-5 pm with no exceptions.

    Unless you work with sensitive/classified information, this seems incredibly restrictive and non-competitive. What are they going to do if your pregnancy means you’re put on bed rest? How did the organization function during peak covid? Is there any possibility at all for some flexibility here?

    1. NotARealManager*

      I noticed this too. I work HR adjacent and the other HR person and I don’t need to keep hours this strict. Our company strives to have good work/life balance and be family friendly. That means 8-5 in office, M-F is not always possible or expected. Is there any way your department can flex these hours or allow for some WFH time?

    2. hypoglycemic rage*

      I work as an admin in a law firm, and our HR (one person-dept) does deal with classified/personal information, but she still works from home a few days a week (and her office is, I believe, the only one that actually locks when she’s not in it). Obvi, YMMV, but I hope you’re able to at least ask about WFH options!

    3. Momma Bear*

      What my company does is offer flexibility with core hours. So maybe some people get in at 7 and others by 10 but from 10-4 there should be significant overlap. I think with so few hands and so many things going on the hours should be revisited. Kind of the whole what a man can/can’t do speech by Captain Sparrow.

      As an aside, start looking for childcare immediately. It takes time and you don’t want to be caught short without quality infant care.

    4. ampersand*

      This also stood out to me. The beginning of that sentence is “We pride ourselves on being a great company to work for…” That may overall be true, but it seems clear that the WFH policy needs to be reevaluated–allowing remote work could solve part of the problem.

      1. Allison K*

        I’m struck by how much the Overton window has shifted on work-from-home (obv due to the pandemic forcing us to learn it’s possible), that “great to work for” is now far more likely to include flexible hours AND wfh. Progress!

    5. Manic Pixie HR Girl*

      My best guess is that because the rest of the business is on-site, there’s been a high level decision that HR also needs to be on-site to set the example and be physically available to all on-site employees.

      (Not saying that it SHOULD be that way, but I imagine that’s the circumstance.)

      1. SemiAnon*

        Or most of the work isn’t computer based, so HR needs to be physically accessible for employees to contact them during the work day.

    6. Super*

      Same here.

      “We pride ourselves on being a great company to work for … and are required to work in the office on M-F, 8-5 pm with no exceptions.”

      By definition, “no exceptions” is NOT a great place to work for. That’s not even a meh place to work for – that’s a BAD place to work for.

      And if suddenly there become exceptions because the head of HR suddenly has life happen to her, as opposed to all the 350 people who were denied exceptions when they had life happen to them… that’s even worse.

      I really hate how corporations have gone all-in on the power move of working in-person. “Oh employees finally feel like they have bargaining power? Take this, peons, and be grateful to even have a job.”

  7. Harper the Other One*

    OP, I second the advice above to bring in someone part time or contract – with the additional bonus that this will familiarize someone with the work for if/when you take some maternity/parental leave! I know this is extraordinarily stressful but it could also be a great opportunity provide better support/coverage to your department in general. Can you make a business case for bringing someone in as a float who can backfill/assist in all three roles? It would also make things like vacation, sick days, etc. much easier on all of you, which will likely help everyone’s stress level.

  8. EA*

    I don’t think your two coworkers need to know about your pregnancy yet, but it would probably be helpful to disclose to your director. You can disclose only to your director and specifically say you don’t want others to know yet. I did this when I was in a role that required a lot of travel and needed to pull back. Only my manager knew for quite a while, but it helped to reorganize workflow. Also, there may be a good case for bringing on someone part-time or contract to learn the ropes and then they could cover your future maternity leave.

  9. RJ*

    OP, I’m sorry you are dealing with all of this both in your personal life and at the office. I echo what others have said upthread that things need to change at your office. You need more staff. Your management should reconsider the current office hours AND the in office requirement. I don’t what goalpost is going to move, but something has to change in order for your office to function.

  10. DrSalty*

    You need to make your director aware of your situation. They’re going to have to find the bandwidth to deal with this, because solving these sorts of issues is 100% what it means to be the director of a department. Maybe that means they delegate their THEIR boss. But this is not on you to solve.

  11. Robin*

    I’d recommended disclosing your need for accommodation without disclosing the reason (pregnancy). You can tell them that something has come up that requires potential last minute time away. Or say it’s a private medical situation. Disclose the pregnancy when you’re showing or when the risk of loss has mostly passed. If the worst case scenario happens and you lose the pregnancy, you won’t have to tell everyone you lost your baby.

  12. Agent Diane*

    You are under-resourced by 0.5 FTE. The good ratio in the UK is 1 FTE HR person for every 100 staff.

    Suggest your boss hires a temp who can take over the more routine work off her plate. That will free up some of her time to rethink the way the team operates and make a clear business case for more funding on a permanent basis. The alternative is reducing the service level on offer.

    Some of that might be wise anyway: what’s the SLA response time for routine enquiries? And do they all need an HR professional or could a general admin do there “here is the guide on how to log your hours Keith” queries.

    1. bamcheeks*

      I agree with you, but I don’t know whether anyone understands the acronym FTE outside the UK!

      1. Zinnia*

        FTE = Full Time Equivalent.

        My American brain, however, decided it meant (Forget) This Event, which was more amusing.

        1. Chocolate Teapot*

          I usually see FTE as an acronym for Full Time Employee. Sometimes job adverts will put FT or PT, depending on what the position requires.

      2. Super*

        I hear FTE all the time, across US geographical regions and industries.

        Though we say Full Time Employee.

  13. Massive Dynamic*

    I recommend disclosing sooner rather than later too, at least to your director. In the next year, it’s highly likely that you’ll all either grow your department, backfill the coordinator if they bow out, and/or bring in a contractor to assist. The best way to plan for that right now today would be to make sure that all of your standard operating procedures (SOPs) are well documented, as well as your general policies. What is your PTO accrual plan, how does running payroll work, etc. etc. Get it all down now and it becomes exponentially easier for a new hire or new contractor to come in and keep things moving.

    Also, congratulations on your pregnancy! I hope that it’s as calm as can be and that you are well-cared for the whole way through.

    1. Massive Dynamic*

      Best way to approach SOP creation is the next time you are doing a critical task, write it down as you go. Include screenshots, include login information to systems, etc. And save it all somewhere secured to your department.

        1. Smarch*

          Yeah, the last time I came down with document lung I wasn’t 100% for months.

          (Usually I can work out what somebody meant but this time I’m completely at sea. Or maybe it’s not a typo at all, just one of those localisms like Teapot * that I don’t read here enough to get…)

      1. office hobbit*

        tbh given the constraints OP mentions, I’d recommend getting a screen recording software and recording themselves doing the process while narrating. It won’t be the best documentation for someone else to follow, but it will be followable and it will be SO much faster for OP to make. Document lung is very time consuming and it doesn’t sound like OP has any spare time!

  14. Wine not Whine*

    Jumping on the “bring in contract or part-time help” bandwagon – but also, you need to bring them in NOW. You don’t want to have to get them up to speed on your necessary projects and processes *after* someone has already left – that just adds to the stress for everyone, and risks something falling through the cracks.
    It also gives you time to regroup if you don’t get the right person the first time (which happens!).

    Best wishes to all of you!

    1. Annie*

      Yes! And bringing someone in now may alleviate some of the pressure on the coordinator. They are saying that they enjoy the job and it’s only home things that are hurting their mental health, but certainly a better office situation that won’t have as much pressure (especially with everything that is coming up) will probably be helpful as well

  15. Jiminy Cricket*

    If you can’t bring in temporary support (which your department will need anyway, to cover your parental leave) — or even if you can — remember that setting realistic priorities is not “phoning it in.”

    This won’t be the year for special projects or new initiatives. No new processes or software. It’s okay to say that this is a keep-the-lights-on year.

    Also, I hope all of these stresses are temporary and next year is a better one.

  16. Festively Dressed Earl*

    I thought the rule was 2 HR people per 100 people in the company? It sounds like LW’s department has been shorted 3 or 4 employees for quite some time. No wonder the coordinator is burnt out and LW is overwhelmed! Bringing in contractors or part timers is only the beginning of what this company owes their HR department if they want to pride themselves on being a ‘great company’.

    1. Generic Name*

      I totally agree. This “great working environment” company isn’t adequately staffing a critical function and has no option to work from home. No wonder the entire HR department is hanging by a thread. Honestly, I hope the whole department gets better jobs. I’d bet real money that they are severely underpaying you all as well.

  17. (Former) HR Expat*

    Hi OP! Here’s one thing that we all forget in HR- we’re employees too! And we know that with all the focus we have on supporting our businesses, employees and other responsibilities, we often forget to take care of ourselves. Please take this as your cue to look at your needs in the near future and how your workload may impact those needs. Think of how you would approach this situation if it were an employee coming to you with this situation, and take those steps with your director.

  18. Plume*

    This is what temps were made for. Hire a temp or two to take the pressure off everyone while you are out and while they are experiencing extreme life changes. It will be more up front work but then the tos can take off a lot of routine work to free you up for flexibility while letting you focus on the hard stuff at work.

  19. sharks*

    It sounds like your coordinator really wants to leave. Any chance they’re hanging on because they know how much your department is struggling?

    I think you should get some immediate help to take on as much work as needed so that the rest of the team can hire someone to take over for your coordinator, someone to cover your maternity leave, and someone to support your director.

  20. Look For the Helpers (And Get Some Yourself!)*

    OMG ask for help! Not only because you need it (and you DO!) but because it models to everyone that it is OKAY to do this! I’ve worked with bosses before who always acted amazingly supportive/insisted their staff take time off and not do work on vacation/ask for help but it always stressed me out to take time off/need help because they never took time off/seemed to ask for help/always answered emails on vacation, even for trivial things. This always made me wonder in the background if they were secretly judging me for doing those things because I would hear what they were SAYING but also see what they were DOING. MODEL FOR YOUR EMPLOYEES THAT THIS IS OKAY. It will be such a gift.

    And for real- you need the help. It’s okay to need the help! Get allllll the support you can in this time of chaos! It won’t be forever. And +10000 to those who are saying look for daycare now. Do. It. Now. Don’t wait.

    Bonus tips if you are able: Book a housekeeper for the first few months postpartum now if you are able to afford it. Pets? Get a pet sitter to come in and walk the dog/change the litter box/small pet tasks. If you have money (which you may not- this is a very privileged take, I know), throw money at things and arrange those things NOW. Make some freezer meals now.
    Buy some paper plates/bowls just in case you can’t deal. Future you will high-five past you across time and space!

  21. Not Tom, Just Petty*

    I’m so curious about OP’s employee classification. There is a director and assistant director in a department of 3. I’m not saying that OP isn’t worth the title, I’m concerned she’s worth more than just that. Is “director” considered a manager because it seems like the work is salary non-exempt. It would give me a better picture of this being a “great place to work” that has 1 HR person per 115 people, and no hybrid flexibility if we knew that the company was mislabeling positions.
    I’m concerned about the overall place, because the only person OP and her team can talk to is someone else in the team. That’s not great.

    1. WellRed*

      I noticed that too, two director titles in a department of three. Plus, very small dept for 350 employees.

  22. woops*

    the whole team is struggling with personal life drama/crisis/mental health issues/….
    that’s a tough situation. really though, i think there is an obvious solution. have you considered hiring some males? even if you just hired one – it would help ensure someone would be available to work while the rest of the team is dealing with the personal issues/sadness/mental health. just a thought.

      1. mlem*

        Well, of *course* “males” never have medical issues or mental health issues, nor are they ever primary caregivers for partners, children, or other family members! (And CERTAINLY never in combination!!) Clearly hiring all these “fee-males” is the REAL problem here! /s

        1. Random Dice*

          I have a solution! Let’s gender-discriminate, IN HR, to solve the problems caused by all those wandering uteruses.

          Men never feel depression or suicidal!

          Men never have children they need to raise!

          Men never have health crises that leave them in hospital or bedbound!

          Women are weak silly creatures.

      2. woops*

        they do, but in my experience they are much more likely to leave those things at home and not bring it to work. in 30 years working in the public and private sectors, i’ve never had more than one or two who let it dramatically impact their productivity, certainly not 3 at once. just as an example – i’ve had multiple women take multiple days off because a pet died. i dont think it would even occur to a man to ask for something like that, and if he did, he’d probably never live it down.

        1. CL*

          I’ve had male colleagues take time for the death of a pet. The people that “never lived it down” were the ones insensitive to their situations.

        2. Massive Dynamic*

          Who in this day and age is heckling a man for taking time to grieve a loss, receive medical care, or care for a loved one? You?

        3. HoundMom*

          Okay you have been working for 30 years (like myself). In my industry, men with such views are defined as “pale, male, and stale”. Time to retire or evolve.

        4. Esmae*

          Even if that were true, and it’s not — in this case, of the three employees dealing with personal crises, one is dealing with a high risk physical health issue and one is dealing with an increased need for flexibility due to being the sole provider for their family. Not exactly things you can “leave at home.”

        1. allathian*

          No need for sarcasm, many do exactly that. Or else they self-medicate with alcohol and/or drugs (granted, women do this too) and suffer the consequences, which often include becoming unfit to work.

        2. Random Dice*

          Or commit suicide.

          Or murder their female partners.

          Or run off with a teenager and leave the hard work to a woman.

    1. Yorick*

      This is silly. Men have medical issues that require a lot of time off. Men get stressed and do a worse job at work when their spouse is suddenly out of work and is also disabled and requires care. And men make cryptic comments about not wanting to be at work anymore when they are getting ready to quit.

        1. MsM*

          Don’t be silly. Nobody is more dramatic than a giant fluffy male cat. Especially one who hasn’t been fed in ten whole minutes.

          1. Bossypants*

            Fair. My last male cat was just a very chill tabby. but this new orange replacement cat … drama queen!

            Still, tho. this guy can’t have meant male humans.

          2. Nobby Nobbs*

            He is not TOUCHING you right now. This is a CRISIS. He needs to be in PHYSICAL CONTACT with his person immediately or he will DIE.

    2. bamcheeks*

      I was so sure this must have been an autocorrect error but then you doubled down! Oh hun.

    3. Isben Takes Tea*

      What I have witnessed is actually more leeway given to men who have “things going on at home” or are “dealing with depression,” but usually in the form of just . . . not addressing the lack of productivity/responsibility and the increased workload it creates on the rest of their (usually disproportionately female) colleagues. While nobody in these situations doubted that the men in question did actually have personal things going on, there still needed to be structured accommodations that could be prepared for and worked around (and basic expectations of accountability) instead of constant last-minute coverage, when none of them were ever given the same grace.

    4. Mighty K*

      Why do you think the coordinator isn’t male? Their pronouns are “they/their”. It’s not only females who can suffer with mental health problems.

    5. Adultier adult*

      While I anticipate this person is about to be blown to bits (as they should)- i would like to say as a manager, I’ve only had two major “my employee has lost it and now we all have to pick up the slack”. Both were males.

    6. Fives*

      I’m late reading this one but this comment made me gasp out loud. Like “males” don’t have personal issues/sadness/mental health.

    7. Kella*

      Imagine thinking it’s a good idea to use sexism as a guiding principle to staff the department responsible for making sure sexism is not used as a guiding principle in the work place (among other things).

  23. hi there*

    I have just used a temp agency to hire a part-time admin assistant and have to say… why didn’t I do so sooner?! If you’re able to spend the money, it is 1000% worth it. And that’s exactly what temp agencies are there for. Sending good vibes to you!

  24. Generic Name*

    Honestly, this situation strikes me as the company is overworking too few people for the size the company is at, and it is understandably impacting your team’s mental health. I think your whole team sounds burned out due to the inflexible and overloaded working environment, and not some nebulous “personal problem” as it’s framed in the letter. I am especially concerned about your coworker who says she doesn’t know how much longer she can continue like this. Hopefully she just means “….before I quit without notice” and not something more permanent.

    1. PK*

      This is my interpretation as well. Her co-worker may have some difficult family stuff going on, but people don’t usually say things like that at work unless they mean, “how much longer I can continue working this job with this workload”

  25. Observer*

    It sounds to me like you need to do 4 things:

    1. Scrap the In office only policy. If you need to invest in your IT infrastructure to go hybrid, it’s well worth the investment – and not just to keep the HR staff going. If your company refuses to consider that, consider that maybe your employer is not so great.

    2. You sound understaffed. Look at adding another staff person

    3. Skilled temp work. Temps are not just for base line admin work, although you might want to do that too. And HR is a place where that’s actually quite common.

    4. Look at automating anything and everything that you can. It’s not only going to make life easier, and make it easier to manage with a small staff, it’s also going to give you a lot more flexibility and nimbleness. And it will also probably reduce errors.

    Lots of luck with all of this. Best wishes for your pregnancy to calm down.

  26. Millenial HR*

    I also work in an HR Dept and 3 people supporting 350 employees does not seem manageable even when everyone is at 100%. I’ve worked in other teams where the workload is high and I was on leave for a personal reason, as well as someone else and it was awful. We were already stretched thin and it just made it worse. I begged when I returned to work for additional help and I was told no for almost a year. By that point I was so burnt out I had nothing left to give to employees. I left that job and am now on a larger team supporting fewer employees. It is so much better! I think you first need to disclose what’s going on with you, and then talk about how to make things better for the team as a whole. I think definitely a contractor for the short-term, and then possibly a 4th team member so that if this comes up again you have enough staff to continue supporting the company. Good luck!

  27. Kodamasa*

    I am concerned about the coordinator. Someone saying the won’t be around soon but also saying that they love their job makes me think of someone who is suicidal. Unless you’re really, really sure that isn’t the case, someone needs to ask them if they’ve had thoughts or plans for harming themselves or others. It’s a hard conversation to have even under ideal circumstances, so it would make sense if none of your overwhelmed department can do it, but if you have someone you and they trust that can, I’d encourage it.

    1. Daffodil*

      This worried me too. It’s hard to tell without the context, but if it’s a possibility I echo Kodamasa’s advice,

    2. Elizabeth*

      I 100% agree. Suggested language for OP to bring this up with them:

      “I’ve recently heard you say things about not wanting to be here and not being sure how much longer you can do this. If you’re hinting that you might be looking for a new job, please know that you don’t owe me any explanation and also that I support you doing what’s best for you and your family. We can talk about that if you want, or we can pretend this conversation never happened. But I’m also concerned, because sometimes when people say things like that it’s because they’re having thoughts of suicide. I care about you and I want to make sure you have the support you need. And to be clear, I’m saying all of this as a friend— this has nothing to do with your work.”

      See how they respond. Assure them this is a safe place and you will keep between you whatever they share. It’s tempting to reassure someone in this type of situation (It’s all going to get better, or But you have so much to live for), but try not to do that. Instead, they will appreciate it if you listen, validate that their feelings are real and hard and scary, and help them feel comfortable acknowledging what they’re going through.

      If they are willing, see if you can get them to commit to calling 988. Explain that it is a free, completely confidential hotline where they can talk to someone about what they’re feeling. OP, you can also call 988 before you talk to the coordinator, to help you prepare for the conversation and to learn more about resources.

      The goal of the conversation should be for the coordinator to know that you care about them and that help is available if/when they’re ready. Walk the careful line of being a support person without becoming their main support person— if they are open to help, focus on getting them connected with 988 or other mental health resources in your area. If your company has an EAP, that’s a good resource too!

  28. Banana Pyjamas*

    “ I may be stuck in the middle of a doom cycle, but I can’t stop thinking that we’re going to be stuck “ranking” needs on days where we all may need to be out, fighting each other on workloads, feeling resentment towards each other if their situation “wins out,” and also managing stress around our own situations.”

    Depending on your OB practice you can set up a standing appointment for your prenatal care. This would allow you to schedule your time off at work before anything comes up with your coworkers. It doesn’t cover any black box scheduling with specialists, but it covers your main appointments. Even if the MA tells you they don’t schedule standing appointments, ask them to discuss it with the provider and call you with a decision. Sometimes they only allow you to schedule 2 or 3 appointments at a time, but that’s better than scheduling at the end of each appointment.

    I know you’re in HR, but sometimes when we are overwhelmed we don’t think of everything. Would the condition that makes the pregnancy high risk qualify for intermittent FMLA? If so that’s possibly your safest course of action.

  29. Banana Pyjamas*

    Can you schedule standing appointments for your prenatal care so that it’s on the calendar before anything comes up with your coworkers?

    Does the condition that makes your pregnancy high-risk qualify you for intermittent FMLA?

  30. Troubadour*

    Hire a 4th person and maybe a 5th. If it takes time to get approval/go through the hiring process, get a temp to cover in the meantime. If you can’t get approval, then just… don’t cover for the consequences that. Don’t fall into the “But we can’t let employees suffer” trap. a) You’re an employee too, and b) Sometimes having ‘stakeholders’ suffering is the only way to make the organisation see that yeah you do actually need that extra position. Set yourself boundaries of the hours you’ll do, the amount of leave you’ll need, and the tasks you’re willing to do within that, and then stick to it. “Sorry, I don’t have capacity for that” is your friend.

  31. M*

    Perhaps I’m a little cold but personal crises are for personal time, not work time.

    Both your director and coordinator need to be on leave until they get their lives sorted and your company needs to have more HR people on staff, period.

    1. Seriously?!*

      Woah. You’re missing the overlap that what happens at home can affect how you are at work – whether you want it to or not. Some things also can’t be “switched off”. Fear, stress, concern for your own safety, for your own health & mortality, plenty more.
      My own example is getting the cancer diagnosis phone call whilst at work. I then had to go teach for another 4 hours, with no option of going home. You think I thought clearly during that time, or was on my A Game? No. I was thinking about whether or not I was going to die.

      1. Seriously?!*

        But I do agree with your part 2 – be enabled to take leave, and this company does need to hire more HR personnel/help.

      2. M*

        I don’t mean things like receiving bad news in a phone call (I hope you’re doing better now!) or things like that, things that come out of the blue.

        It seems like these are not one-off crises, they are ongoing. Both of the co-workers need to not be in a position of trying to juggle work and their personal issues at the same time.

        1. Woulds*

          We are talking about humans, not robots. Emotions aren’t like a faucet, and typical humans have emotions.

          Sometimes life is just difficult — do you think people who have chronic negative/difficult life situations should just be unemployed until they “get their lives sorted”? Even that phrase — ick. Stinks of the “personal responsibility” junk I see thrown around way too much about problems that are way more complex than just having willpower or something.

          1. M*

            No, humans are not robots. But if an employee is having CONSTANT back to back personal issues that are affecting their job and pushing the strain onto coworkers that’s an issue.

            I’ve been in that situation where I had to cover an employee who had some world ending crisis every week. It gets frustrating when everyone else has to pick up the slack when there is no bandwidth to pick to the slack and there is no end in sight to it.

            At some point an employee DOES need to take personal responsibility to get themselves sorted out…vs expecting everyone else to burn themselves out. No, I’m not saying willpower or positive thinking is enough. Some people get dealt terrible hands! But part of being a functional employee (or just person in general) is realizing that hey, I need some help or hey this isn’t working for me I need to do something about it.

            There are ways that OP’s company can help with this – hire extra temp help on top of fully staffing the department, allow flexible hours along with WFH, accommodate leave as needed, etc. I’m not saying employees in crisis should be kicked out the door or left unemployed! But just allowing multiple employees to have multiple never ending crises at once is just going to lead to disaster.

    2. allathian*

      I agree with your second paragraph. That said, compartmentalizing is easier for some people than others, and we’re all human. Some life crises affect our work whether we want them to or not.

      That said, the company does need to hire more HR employees, this isn’t sustainable.

  32. Grandma to three cats*

    Lots of good suggestions here. As a veteran of 2 high risk pregnancies (which produced 2 great kids) I want to urge you to put yourself first. High risk pregnancy has a way of messing with your plans. Please take care of you. You’re worth it.

  33. Caramellow*

    I quit a job where I was the go to person to cover every leave, sick day, surgery, funeral, soccer game and gender reveal. It was made clear to me that I wasn’t allowed to have anything go wrong in my life since the whole emergency plan was “my name”. Once I left they reorganized and added extra staff for floating coverage.

    Maybe the LW’s company would be willing to boost staff numbers to cover staffing needs?

  34. Death-cat*

    “I don’t know if I can keep going in this way,” “I think I need to make a change soon,” “My family notices how sad I am and think I need to step away,”

    Maybe it’s just the examples LW chose to share from the coordinator, but given LW’s description of the coordinator dealing with mental health issues, I hope someone has talked to the coordinator to make sure they have the support they need to get help. These phrases could be talking about leaving their current role, but they could also indicate someone struggling with suicidal ideation.

  35. BitterGayWaiter*

    For 350 employees there are only three HR people? Jay-sus! Your department is severely understaffed. This operation needs somewhere between 7 and 15 HR folks.

    I worked for an attorney’s office where we had a client that had not enough management for 700 employees. They ended up spending so much money for us to solve HR problems while we were just demanding “You guys need more HR people.”

    You can’t run 350 with 3.

    Everything is great as long as there are no problems.

    1. Inkognyto*

      I agree.

      This is the thing that people forget. When you give time off, you don’t get 100% of someone’s time.

      If a company gives 3 weeks of vacation time off, and like a week of sick time, This means you will not have someone working 1 month a year, with 3 people that’s 3 months of the year. Where at least 1 of the other 2 people need to be there.

  36. Woulds*

    I also work for one of those “great to work for” companies, and a combination of them becoming less great in specific ways as well as my rise to higher positions has made it clear that we aren’t really that great to work for. Even though we may still seem that way on the surface.

    The main problem is chronic understaffing, to the point where nobody has the capacity to fix the understaffing problem because they are so overwhelmed trying to keep everything afloat due to understaffing. It feels like a slow motion avalanche, and if I had options I’d be gone by now. (Not a surprise at all, but that is how we got to this point — folks who had options or were willing/able to just be unemployed long term in this job desert left and were not replaced, or were replaced by existing employees who did not receive training because the only people who could have trained them weren’t there anymore.) My employer is less than 1/3 the size of yours, and I know for a fact that our HR department (the same size as yours) is woefully understaffed. IDK how you’re doing it, but if you at all have the ability to leave, that’s my advice. Even if the ship you’re on isn’t sinking, it’s going to be an incredibly unpleasant ride. And no matter how nice your employer is to your face, I guarantee that when things start to visibly crumble the folks who have been trying to hold things together will become scapegoats. Because it’s not possible for you to maintain a decent job of doing the work of a team that should be at least twice the size it is now — a bad job will be done, and the folks who wouldn’t or couldn’t provide you with adequate staffing aren’t going to be the ones who take the blame. They’re the ones who will assign it.

  37. hj*

    OP, I only got halfway through your message before my brain blanked and went, wait, only 3 HR members for a company of 350? that’s not enough! and the rest of your message backed that up. I hope you push strongly for more members on your team. if your company *is* really a great place to work, you should be able to easily hire someone, and set a good example for other departments not to be as overworked as you 3 clearly are. a good place to work has redundancy built in!

  38. KR*

    If one of you was hit by a bus Regina George style you would be in the same position. I agree with Alison’s post and also think it’s a good idea because it’s clear you guys are stressed and maybe shouldn’t continue running such a lean operation. It’s good to have coverage and space to breathe so everyone isn’t in triage mode all the time

  39. Boof*

    Send up the flair now OP! The current situation is beyond unsustainable, you need more help/support now (have a list of things that will help; ie, work from home if that is actually immediately feasible and helpful; what things can someone else actually be doing and get off your plates; temp hire asap; add 2-3 people to your staff within the next 3-6 months). Or else /and else depending on what happens when, you decide what you will drop. Some stuff is just going to not happen. Decide what the top priority stuff is, inform everyone (your bosses, the employees, etc) what’s going to be on indefinite hold until there’s more staff/bandwidth/etc.

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