Q: A young direct report of mine recently split up with her boyfriend of a year and seems to have fallen to pieces. This is her first job. I gave her a day's compassionate leave as she seemed unable to stop crying. I thought this more than generous but a week later she is still yet to pull herself together. I feel like taking her aside and telling her it was just a silly little relationship and to get over it but I fear my colleagues would think I was being rather harsh.
JEREMY SAYS: In management - as in just about everything - a little bit of empathy goes a very long way.
And by empathy I don't simply mean super-sized sympathy; I mean what psychologists call a theory of mind. And that's an ability to put yourself in other people's shoes; to see things through other people's eyes.
It can never be completely successful, and some people are much better at it than others, but it can be consciously practised. I think you should try.
The first thing you'll begin to realise is that, to this young direct report of yours, the break-up of a year-long relationship - probably her first - is neither little nor silly.
To attempt to persuade her that it was wouldn't be harsh so much as seriously misguided. She'd tell you that you simply didn't understand - and she'd be right. In her young life, this is almost certainly the worst thing that's ever happened to her.
By all means talk to her again, but without reproach. Acknowledge that her grief (to you, I'm sure, an absurd exaggeration but almost certainly not too big a word in her eyes) is probably all-consuming at the moment.
Tell her of the huge therapeutic value of distraction. Advise her gently to see her work as exactly that; to concentrate on it as never before. And, gradually, she'll find she's learning to cope again.
Make a date to meet again in a week to find out how she's doing.
Jeremy Bullmore is a former creative director and chairman of J Walter Thompson London. His book Another Bad Day at the Office? is published by Penguin at £6.99. Got a problem? Email Jeremy at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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