This is an ongoing content series on the current EAN website. We have set it up again here so you can continue to use it (if you like.)
Q. The literature often uses the word “loyal” when describing valued employees. I want employees to work hard, show respect, and give their best to the company, but to me as a supervisor, loyalty seems a little strong, like “blind allegiance.” Can you clarify this term?
A. Loyalty implies that your employee exhibits a strong sense of commitment, trust, or allegiance to you as their supervisor. Disloyal employees will typically experience more disagreements with their supervisor, perceive a lack of support or fairness in the workplace, and show strained communication with their supervisor. Like someone tending a garden, supervisors must constantly be on the move, addressing conflicts and concerns among workers. Doing so helps produce loyal workers. Your employees will feel a sense of loyalty if you remain transparent and open with information, offer support and recognition, set a positive example in your work style that they can follow, resolve conflicts, listen, give them feedback, and show a genuine interest in their lives. Demonstrated d is loyalty is often the sign of a troubled employee. Work with your EAP to either help the employee or analyze what more you can do to improve your supervision style to nurture the loyalty you need.
Q. A tragic incident occurred at work, and I felt caught off guard because employees immediately looked to me for direction and leadership. Frankly, I was at a loss to know where to begin. I felt I let folks down. How can supervisors improve their ability to respond to a crisis?
A. Take proactive steps to build your crisis management know-how. For less than $10, you can take a course online from a website like Udemy.com. They have supervisor courses in crisis management that address your issues of concern. Speak to your HR advisor. Discover any existing crisis or incident protocols. Be well versed in these emergency response procedures (evacuation, shelter-in-place protocols, and first aid). Schedule a periodic review of procedures. As a rule, be calm and demonstrate resilience in a crisis. Immediately establish regular communication channels, like group meetings, emails, or instant messages, to keep everyone updated. Don’t become dictatorial in a crisis, but rely on the experience and common sense of an assembled team to help address issues. Prioritize the well-being of employees, and reinforce use of the EAP. Ask about the EAP’s crisis management support capabilities. Remember, no one can anticipate every possible disruption, but taking proactive steps can make you better prepared to face them.
Q. I think my employees have good stress management skills. I don’t detect any signs or symptoms of excessive workloads. I figure if they don’t speak up, it is safe to say that work to say that work distribution is about right. Correct?
A. There are reasons an employee might not choose to complain about their workload. However, engaging with employees, asking questions, and listening carefully will help you discover those workers who are in distress. An employee might worry that expressing concerns about the workload could lead to negative consequences, such as being seen as incapable of handling the work. Pressure to conform to this perceived norm and avoid standing out might keep them mum. Also, a strong desire to please the supervisor or maintain a positive image within the team could explain not speaking up. Job security concerns are another issue if the employee believes the supervisor or maintain a positive image within the team could explain not speaking up. Job security concerns are another issue if the employee believes complaining would make him or her appear expendable. Another reason to engage with workers is to be able to spot performance issues that could be related to problems like depression, stress, anxiety, and conflict. These can be “masked,” which means you don’t see the symptoms.
Q. What are some tips for building relationships with employees in the workplace with the goal of understanding their needs and strengths and detecting issues and problems (even personal problems) earlier?
A. There are many ways to get to know your employees. 1) Make it OK for employees to meet you for conversations, and establish safe spaces so they can share with you privately what’s important. 2) A few times a year, schedule regular meetings for a few minutes one-on-one to discuss workload and challenges. 3) Do not discuss just work. Show real concern for their well-being by expressing interest in their work life and happiness on the job. 4) Share and disclose some of your own work struggles in your career history so employees see the “real you.” This will make you relatable, which is a powerful relationship-building dynamic that builds loyalty. 5) Be quicker to understand and learn employees’ perspectives rather than make immediate judgment calls about their work, ideas, and problems. 6) Offer feedback and praise. This will cause them to speak up sooner about challenges before they become larger problems.
Q. Is there a way to be supportive yet confrontational with my supervisor in an effort to get him coaching help for communication and style issues affecting me and my supervisor peers? We believe everyone would be happier and far less stressed if he used the EAP for this sort of assistance.
A. Being assertive with your supervisor requires a few preparatory steps, and you should consider role-playing the following with the EAP. Be sure to choose a private, respectful, and confidential tone when you meet with your boss. Talk about yourself first. Express your commitment to the team’s success and that you want to address a concern affecting the work environment. Then share very specific behaviors/actions that are causing distress. Be sure the examples are “observable,” “date-specific” behaviors. State the impact on the team or your work group. Avoid “you” statements that can be perceived as blame. Next, express concern for your boss’s well-being, such as, “It seems there’s been a lot of pressure on you lately.” Connect this to asking whether you or the team can do something to alleviate stress or take pressure off in some way. Propose using the EAP to improve the work situation and help the team. Listen to the response. Your boss may decide to seek assistance but never let you know it.
Q. My employee has been found sleeping at his desk several times. I am going to arrange a formal confrontation with him today. My question is, should I ask him to see his doctor, or refer him to the EAP? This must be some sort of medical or sleep disorder sort of problem.
A. You should refer your employee to the EAP. It’s the approved resource recognized by your organization, and any other recommendation or referral by you to another source of help would be fraught with potential problems. Notice how mulling over the proper resource for your employee entails some diagnostic thinking. This is what supervisors are asked to avoid as they consider what’s best in helping employees resolve performance or conduct problems. Sleeping at one’s desk could be explained by a medical problem but also by a dozen other issues. Even if this problem is directly caused by a medical condition, referral to the EAP offers the employee and the organization significant advantages. For example, the EAP role will improve communication with the medical provider, perform follow-up, and help address any problems in the employee’s life secondary to the sleep disorder. This makes it more likely the primary condition would be successfully treated and the employee will return to satisfactory performance.
Q.I have been a manager for over 20 years, but one thing that bothers me the most is gossip and office politics. It’s a difficult thing to manage because you can’t catch conversations involving gossip, and one can’t read employees’ minds. What else can a supervisor do?
A. Gossiping and office politics may be hard to control, but worse, this behavior can undermine a positive workplace. It can also interfere with your supervisor authority, decisions, and leadership responsibilities. Don’t be passive. Be sure to model appropriate behavior, not participate in those behaviors you seek to curtail. Employees do respond to role modeling. Let employees know what you want and expect from them regarding conduct and other behavioral issues. At least once, gather your employees and address the importance of respectful communication and discourage gossip and negative politics. Also, be sure employees feel they can safely come to you with concerns, ideas, and feedback. The inability to do so often fuels workplace divisiveness. When you spot inappropriate behavior associated with negative communication, always address it right away. This also has a strong dampening effect. Talk to the EAP about education, awareness, and respectful communication resources.
Q. If there is one thing I dread, it’s an employee coming to my office to tell me without warning that he or she has decided to quit. What can supervisors do to reduce the likelihood of employees suddenly quitting? Any way to be proactive with this issue?
A. Not every decision to quit a job is preventable, because many employees have paths for their careers where opportunities emerge and decisionsto leave are compelling. Still, the supervisor can influence a work environment to maximize a worker’s desire to stay. To reduce being surprised by resigning employees, try scheduling one-on-one meetings with employees so you can provide them feedback and discuss special concerns, understand their goals, and get a feel for how to best meet their needs. These meetings can be short “check-ins” that still give you the information you seek. Typically, employees interested in quitting a job show reduced engagement or verbalize dissatisfaction. Pay attention to these signals so you can address them dissatisfaction. Pay attention to these signals so you can address them quickly. There are many things managers can do to create workplaces conducive to employees staying in place for longer periods of time, but the communication model described above will lead you to discover most of them.
Q. I attempted to refer my employee to the EAP, but he insisted on going to a private therapist, believing he knew more about his problems than the EAP did and that an assessment would be a waste of time. He asked for approval, but I did not give it. What’s next?
A. It would be inappropriate, of course, to approve or disapprove of your employee’s decision to self-refer to a private therapist. You should only say the EAP resource is your recommendation. The employee assistance program exists to help employees with personal problems or concerns by way of self-referral or a supervisor referral; however, the process is voluntary. In this instance, you won’t have the benefit of knowing whether the employee went to see a private therapist in the community or has a signed release confirming participation in any treatment recommendations. For now, focus on job performance. Perhaps it will improve, and this would conclude the history of problems you’ve experienced. However, if problems return, consider appropriate action consistent with your organization’s policies and procedures. This might entail revisiting a formal supervisor referral of your employee to the EAP along with new motivation to attend.
Q. I have noticed over the years that employees almost universally think that the supervisor is “out to get them” or is “targeting them” when disciplinary actions are implemented. Hardly ever do they admit that their performance or conduct warranted actions taken. What explains this?
A. When employees face disciplinary actions, they naturally feel defensive. Feeling targeted or unfairly pursued by the supervisor helps protect the employee’s ego and deflects responsibility and ownership for the behavior. It would be rare indeed for an employee to purposely do a poor job and then expect adverse consequences for it. Disciplinary actions therefore trigger strong emotions, including fear, and the need to search for someone to blame. This is particularly true if the employee knows of others with the same problem but they are not similarly held responsible. Also, it’s possible an employee may lack self-awareness. Without self-awareness, it is tough to accept responsibility for performance issues. Employee defensiveness can make constructive confrontations difficult, but this is a good reason for supervisors to consult with the EAP so they can have assistance in formulating the right approach to confronting employees based on the circumstances.