Media headlines continue to talk about “poor” Tiger Woods.

Some people worry that Woods’ so-called “mojo” is gone forever, while others speculate he is simply in a “slump” that is common in the life of a professional golfer.

I agree that Woods is in a slump. However, this so-called slump is the result of an extreme emotional upheaval in his personal life. In my opinion, it is this emotional trauma that is dramatically affecting his golf game — not a sudden loss of skill, but the sudden loss of ability to concentrate.

Emotion is interfering with his concentration.

I feel bad that Woods has to experience the fact his life story has become as much a spectator sport as his golf game. However, what is happening to Woods is a good example of the power of emotions. Even the god of golf is being negatively affected by emotions. He is not and cannot be as productive as he once was; he cannot golf effectively. And while spectators continue to look to Woods for serious signs of life, I can say that he probably won’t get his “mojo” back for about three years because that is how long it takes for this type of trauma to pass.

And unless Woods can avoid absorbing the jabs that come with this spectator sport, it might even take him longer to get back into his game.

Barbara Bowes

I’m frankly not sure that people realize the extent to which an emotional and psychological trauma can upset a person’s equilibrium. A trauma such as this can shatter your sense of self, and your sense of security. You may feel overwhelmed and disoriented. And this feeling of being overwhelmed can happen to the best of us. For instance, one of my senior executive clients, a successful professional in their field, was terminated from their job. The individual came to my office to relay the news and appeared quite upset, but refused my offer to drive the person home.

Within 15 minutes of leaving, the client returned and was even more upset. Guess what? The client was so disoriented that he drove right over a 76-centimetre cement barrier in the parking lot. So much for feeling “alright”. He was so disoriented that he couldn’t concentrate on driving home.

This is also a good example of how emotions interfere with personal functioning. People don’t recognize or perhaps accept the symptoms they are experiencing or they simply don’t associate the symptoms with emotional upheaval.

While employers can quickly see the impact of a major trauma on an employee, in other situations of longer-term emotional issues or stress, an employee’s ability to function effectively may simply deteriorate over time. In other words, an employee who was once productive may slowly turn into a dysfunctional individual who is unhappy, irritable, angry and/or resentful for no apparent reason.

If the situation begins to reach a most challenging level, the employer might also start to witness self-destructive behaviour such as substance abuse. In some cases, an individual might engage in “desk rage” by screaming, cursing or deliberately damaging company property. Still others will fail to show up for work and will simply disappear and abandon their job. Finally, although unfortunate, there will be a few extreme individuals such as the former police inspector in Manila who, in protest over his dismissal from work, hijacked a bus full of tourists, killing eight including Canadians.

There are several strategies that can be applied should your employees experience a major psychological or emotionally traumatic event in the workplace. This includes moving employees to a separate and private location and ensuring each person has a buddy with whom to talk things over. Allow each individual to express themselves in their own way. Share your reactions with them and listen attentively and acknowledge their reactions. If possible, arrange for a counsellor to attend your workplace and invite employees to speak confidentially with this individual.

However, the subtle “shifting sand” that occurs when an employee’s performance and interpersonal relationships gradually degrade can also be the most difficult to deal with. But keep in mind that as an employer, you are not a psychologist and so attempting to dig deeper into someone’s psyche just won’t work. You need to stick to reviewing productivity from the completion of concrete work tasks and to objectively evaluate their day-to-day behaviour.

Meet this individual and review the standards that have been set for them. Make certain that technical support and the appropriate tools are available. Raise the topic of stress and identify strategies that are available to the employee. This can range from something as simple as taking time during their lunch break to walk around the block or sit on a park bench, to spending time with an employee assistance counsellor and/or using up those unused vacation days.

Yet sometimes, no matter what the employer does, the individual continues to be unproductive at work. Hopefully, this individual will engage in self-examination and reach out for help to get back on track, but many do not take this step. While the game of golf is also one of self-selection where poor play automatically moves an individual like Woods out of the top rank, the workplace requires someone else to make that decision. In other words, the employer must move an unproductive employee out of the organization.

And so, no matter how much you like an employee, no matter how long they have worked for you, or what skills they have, if the individual continues to be unproductive in spite of any and all efforts to support that person, it is best to let them go.

Barbara J. Bowes, FCHRP, CMC is president of Legacy Bowes Group, a Manitoba-based talent management solutions firm. She is also host of the weekly Bowes Knows radio show and is the author of the newly released bestseller, Resume Rescue and Taming the Workplace Tigers. She can be reached at [email protected] 

This initially appeared in the September 4, 2010 edition of The Winnipeg Free Press