When employees’ work quality plunges, it’s important to find out why and look for a solution, but the next step can be tricky.

Looking for answers without getting personal is key to maintaining a good working environment and handling a potentially sticky HR situation with tact.

Don’t Delve

The law prohibits employers from probing into employees’ personal lives. Period.

A person may appear tired or sick at the office, but it is not appropriate to ask about their health. Such questions can go against the Americans with Disabilities Act.

Similarly, avoid questions relating to age, relationship status, home life or other personal areas – even if those issues seem related to changed behavior at work.

Avoid Confusion Resulting from Friendship

As a general rule – and although it’s hard to do – it’s better to avoid friendships in the workplace because they tend to cloud the issues when it comes to job performance.

It will complicate your relationship. Friendships are based on equality. As you dictate important things in your friend-employee’s life, such as income, promotions, and responsibilities, it changes the nature of your relationship. Being friends should be simple. Don’t complicate it.

Their personal issues will get in the way. Compassion and understanding may be important values to you; take it too far and you will jeopardize the day-to-day operations of your organization. A good friend can spend hours as a sounding board. That’s great outside of work, but when it keeps you from being productive, it’s a problem.

You might share things you shouldn’t. You’ve heard me say it before: Being an entrepreneur can be lonely. If a good friend is right outside of your office door, it’s difficult to refrain from unloading work-related issues or confiding about other employees’ shortcomings. This is not good.

It’s not fair. When it’s time to promote, assign bonuses, and grant growth opportunities, you may find it difficult to separate your personal feelings from professional observations. No matter which way you lean, your friend-employee may question the validity of your decision and thereby question his or her own performance.

It’s hard to fire a friend. Your friend, the graphic designer, was probably well suited to the job when you launched the company, but now you need a higher level of skill and creativity. What do you do? Logically, you replace the designer, but how do you fire a friend? It’s not easy to make this one a win for either party.

Inc. magazine

Be Direct, Accomodating

Instead, ask employees directly about the change in performance. Show concern, but also let employees know changes must be made and performance improved in a reasonable time frame or he or she will face consequences.

This confrontation may prompt employees to open up, enabling you to offer accommodation or treatment.