But what about the baggage?

Photo of assorted suitcases and duffels on a white backgroundIf you’re an adult, you’ve got some.




Hot buttons.

Whatever you want to call it.

Because no one gets into adulthood without at least a little baggage – and some have a lot.

And we bring this baggage into the workplace with us, whether we like it or not.

So do our employees and team members.

But what do you do when one of your team is being held back by their baggage?

You’re not qualified

You’re not qualified to be a therapist or counselor. (Unless, of course, you are a therapist or counselor.)

It’s not your place to try to “fix” or even help heal. Don’t go there.

Also, please note: I am emphatically not suggesting that someone who could be a danger to themselves or anyone around them should be in your workplace.

am suggesting that these situations must be handled with care and sensitivity.

With that said, there are fundamentally two options.

Option One

If the baggage is creating a serious performance problem, and you’ve done your best to provide training and support, you could simply let the person go.

Shall we skip the euphemism? You could fire them for non-performance.

And in some cases, that might be exactly what you need to do.

Option Two

People with baggage also often have a ton of potential. If the employee is otherwise a good fit for the job and the company culture, it can be both worthwhile and extremely rewarding to go an extra mile or two.

I know a super-smart woman who’s the CEO and founder of an early-stage, pre-revenue startup. And she has a coach working with her whole team and herself. Like I said, super-smart: she’s not waiting till there’s positive cash flow to provide the support they need.

So one possibility is to follow her example and hire a coach for your employee – and for yourself, to help you help them.

I already said “you’re not qualified,” so take this next idea with caution. But if you share some of your own baggage-related challenges, it can help normalize the experience for someone who might think you – as The Boss – never get triggered or have your buttons pushed – or at least, never at work.

By inviting them to understand how having hot buttons and baggage is part of everyone’s experience, you also invite them to step outside of their immediate perspective. And that can help create space for them to grow into their job responsibilities.

It’s a balancing act

As much empathy and compassion as you might have for someone, they still have a job to do. And it’s not your responsibility – or, frankly, your problem – that they have baggage.

Be clear about your boundaries. Don’t overstep into advice or counsel about their private life, even if they ask.

If it sounds like I’m saying two different things – “help them” / “don’t help them” – well, I sort of am. It’s a balancing act.

Many managers would simply conclude that employees who aren’t performing, regardless of the reason, need to either improve, or go.

And that’s true. I’m not suggesting holding on indefinitely to an employee who’s not doing the job you need them to do.

But I’ve seen some beautiful things happen when potential is encouraged, with patience and understanding.

gljudson Management & Leadership