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From what you describe, there may or may not be an ethical situation.
Can you verify that the situation described by the person (the disease, the loss of a closed and dear person, the divorce, own complications, or another type) corresponds to reality?
Scenario 1: If it does not correspond to reality, we are dealing with an ethical case.
Scenario 2: If it corresponds to reality, the more you are interested in the situation and eventually help (eg ask other team members to do some of their work) the faster that person will respond according to needs and / or job requirements.
I think the approach is, "The more interested in a person as a human being, the more interested in his work."
You never want to go too far down the rabbit hole in an employee's personal issues. The bottom line is that if the employee's performance is not meeting expectations, then a conversation with that employee must take place. In certain situations accommodations may be made; but not always. Your local HR representative must be consulted. Rules and guidelines vary across organizations and countries in how these types of situations are handled.
At the appropriate time the conversation would between the team member and his/her reporting manager after there is a extended conversation between you and the reporting manager. Always keep HR posted in these delicate types of situations and document your efforts and conversations along the way.
Bad things happening to people on our project teams is an unfortunate fact of life. They have happened to me as well, and so I very much try to be understanding when they happen to others.
That doesn't mean that when bad things do occur, that the individual they happened to are the only ones we should consider. If the issue is expected to be temporary, the team might be able to absorb the work. The PM might also be able to find alternate resources to help out for a period of time.
Even at the executive level however, I have seen responsibility shifts where a person who has some unfortunate circumstance is moved to a role where they can deal with their personal issues without causing excessive disruption, and their prior job must be back-filled by someone else so that the team can function effectively.
Focus on people first. If you do that, the results will follow. For a team member whose performance has been acceptable to date but is experiencing a personal challenge, you'd want to be sensitive to what they are going through and not put additional pressure on them (e.g. "The project will fail if you don't pitch in!"). Depending on your reporting relationship to them, you may wish to engage their functional manager and/or HR to help come up with a solution which protects the project but also the individual's need for some breathing space to work through the personal issue.
If the team member does not directly report to you then you have no authority over him and it is not your responsibility to deal with this kind of issues.
Setting up goals and performance evaluation of individual employees is not the responsibility of the PM.
I know that many PMs want to be people managers and dream of being bosses but unfortunately they are not and they have to accept the idea that the project team members are, in most cases, their peers and not their subordinates.
In addition many PMs don't come from the same line of work as the project team members and as such they can't properly evaluate the performance of employees. For a PM a team member that has poor communication skills and appears not to properly engage with the rest of team can be seen as a low performer when in reality he can be the most valuable project contributor.
Adrian, just curious on this .... 'I know that many PMs want to be people managers and dream of being bosses'
Could you elaborate on this?
Regardless of one's level of authority, there is a human aspect here. Certainly, okay to let others know of your availability to have an open dialogue. And if there is an impact on the project itself, there is a responsibility of the project manager to try to alleviate. I would still recommend keeping their functional manager included. All this said, it also may just get to a point where you do what you can and it is not enough. So from that regard, I agree with Adrian that ultimately may need to be handled by their manager.
Additional thought, direction could also depend on culture of organization, either more or less.
Symptoms are similar for many situations but circumstances are different, so it is hard to give an advice on the description only.
I would guide myself by the values of PMI's Code of Ethics:
1 be respectful of the individual and the problems they face, consider not only the role and task but the whole person as a human, make sure you got permission to ask personal questions
2 be responsible, which means stand in for the consequences of the decisions you make or not make (e.g. by ignoring the person's hardship) - so as a project manager even without authority you are in charge of team building and the wellbeing of each individual (and this is culturally different). Also consider your responsibility for the project and the full team. You probably have to balance.
3 be fair, to this person but also to the rest of the team, only focusing on the person could be perceived by the others as biased, get feedback on this issue. How you handle this situation will be an example to others how they can expect to be treated and has impact on your own trustworthiness and respect given. Do not try to succeed in this situation if it is your first time, do not use the person as a gunea pig. Get advice.
4 be honest - by giving feedback but also explaining the business impact of this person's hardship to them. Be honest with the team but respect the persons individual sphere. Be honest to yourself, your emotions will be involved in an unusual way, be self-aware and self-controlled. How you handle this will determine your integrity.
A people manager is usually responsible for things like:
- hiring and firing employees
- employees work assignments (for instance on which projects they should work)
- providing technical leadership to them
- supervising the employees no matter on which activity they are working on (including projects),
- ensuring the employees have the right skills for their assignments (training)
- assessing the performance of employees and taking steps to improve it
- managing the employees rewards (promotions, pay raises, bonuses)
- approving leaves and other administrative tasks regarding the employees.
Project Managers as a general rule don't have the duties above.
Regarding the project team members PMs have the following duties:
- requesting for employees to be assigned to the project (unless there is another system for assigning resources to projects)
- ensuring the team members are being assigned relevant work for the projects (the actual tasks may be assigned by work leads)
- tracking the work the team members are performing and managing their tasks; tasks management means that the PM uses a mechanism, usually some sort of project management software, to keep track of them and monitor the completion.
- when the team is cross-functional coordinating the different functions that are part of the team, ensuring that they communicate efficiently
- having many other project management related duties that are not directly related to the actual work being performed, for example managing stakeholder expectations, managing costs, managing risks, etc.
In addition if the PM and the team members are permanent employees in most cases there is no subordination of the team members to the PM. Both the PM and the team members are individual contributors working on the same organization under different management.
It has become very common for some members of the project team to be more senior than the PM at the organization level.
Why do you think it is an ethical decision? You have to request support for human resource area.
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