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. I was discussing my employee’s attendance problem when she mentioned that family issues were causing her lateness. She added that she would be contacting the EAP. I look forward to positive changes, but should I have done anything more?
A. Beyond following up later and affirming the positive changes in her attendance, the situation with this employee seems to have been handled well. This is a self-referral and a great example of how EAP’s perform, but there area couple of tips worth considering. Depending on the seriousness of this attendance issue, offering the employee the opportunity to use your phone or to call the EAP “now” from your office might be effective in helping ensure she does in fact use the EAP. It’s the employee’s choice, of course. The second is to be firm and supportive but clear that if the attendance problem does not change, then you will be considering the next steps in correcting the problem. This will also facilitate follow-through because a disciplinary step is implied without it being committed to it yet.
Q. Is a “constructive confrontation” with an employee an interview that always includes mention of some potential disciplinary action to help motivate the worker to feel more urgency about making changes in performance?
A. The term “constructive confrontation” has many definitions and applications in human interaction, but in the work setting it typically refers to a purposeful and planned meeting with an employee experiencing performance or conduct issues to motivate the worker to make improvements or desired changes. Although a constructive confrontation may utilize mention of disciplinary action, this is not a required element. Most employees perceive the supervisor to be a legitimate authority figure who has control or influence over the disciplinary processes. This is a dynamic of authority, and it is not overlooked by employees when confronted by supervisors. This dynamic is also helpful to instill motivation. Supervisors who socialize frequently with subordinates or are viewed by them as a friend may experience more difficulty in succeeding with constructive confrontations. This is because the dynamic of authority has eroded. Reasserting this authority can be tough because it requires choices that stress the friendship.
Q. I have been a department head over-seeing dozens of other super-visors for many years. I think many don’t see all the benefits that come with managing a more complete relationship with a worker beyond simple concerns about work output. What benefits accrue from more engaged relationships with employees?
A. As you point out, a more complete supervisory relationship with employees has many payoffs. Beyond focusing on quality or quantity of work, these payoffs include improved communication and a closer, more trusting relationship between the supervisor and employee. This reduces supervisor stress and negative emotions that create unwanted, unnecessary distraction when problems arise. Employees become more interested in their work, improve self-awareness, accomplish more goals, and experience improved job satisfaction, which can reduce turnover and loss of a valuable worker. Ultimately, proper employee management reduces supervisor stress and negative emotions that create unwanted, unnecessary distraction when problems arise. Employees become more interested in their work, improve self-awareness, accomplish more goals, and experience improved job satisfaction, which can reduce turnover and loss of a valuable worker. Ultimately, proper employee management reduces conflict, too. Trust and respect between the worker and manager grow, and a collaboration develops that benefits the work unit. EAPs can help supervisors develop more engaged relationships with employees by helping analyze personnel problems, conflicts, and communication issues, as well as assist in finding creative approaches to help workers make changes that the supervisor can consider.
Q. My department manager just informed me that one of my employees went over my head to complain. It made me look bad, and, frankly, I am upset. How should I intervene? The concern is related to a disagreement we are having about her job description. My boss hasn’t said anything about the end-run.
A. End-running can be a problem among troubled workers, but it can also be a naïve decision by a new or younger employee without experience in understanding how hierarchical organizations function. End-runs are usually managed with two issues of concern: addressing the importance of the complaint(i.e. a harassment complaint, etc.) and the organizational problem of the end-run itself. Referring the employee back to the subordinate supervisor is a common response by the upper-level manager for issues that are not serious. Most end-runs are an irritation, but not calamitous. They are teaching moments for employees, and they can help the supervisor examine areas of improvement in conflict and communication management. Discuss with your employee the complications that result from an end-run. If your employee has more serious conduct issues making behavior difficult, then work with the EAP to help the worker improve conduct, attitude, and performance.
Q. What can supervisors do to help their employees correct performance more efficiently? I have often met with employees to discuss problems that need fixing, but I have later been surprised by what’s been forgotten or not understood despite what appeared to be a well-communicated meeting!
A. If you have been a supervisor for any length of time, you have likely noticed how an employee may be very attentive in a corrective interview as you explain a problem, but later it is as though they were daydreaming the entire time they were looking you straight in the eye. You may have asked to have key points in the meeting repeated, but later the details are surprisingly overlooked. There are many reasons for this phenomenon, including attention deficit issues due to stress, fear, or even possibly depression or medical issues. It is common for such employees not to return later for clarification, fearful of the manager’s response to their apparent lack of attention. For these reasons, practice putting problems in writing along with the key points needing attention. Doing so early when problems arise may eliminate the need for a meeting entirely. If a pattern of inattention remains, refer the employee to the EAP based on performance shortcomings.
Q. I do not always provide an accurate rating of my employee’s performance. I tend to grade higher than what is deserved. My purpose is to avoid conflict and the souring of the relationship, which I depend on to get work done. What am I risking with this practice?
A. The practice of grading an employee’s performance higher than you should is called “rating inflation.” It’s a well-known phenomenon in management, and often the reason it occurs is that the manager is trying to keep peace with the worker whose performance is problematic. Unfortunately, the short-term gains of rating inflation are usually outweighed by the long-term negatives. For example, getting a higher rating than they deserve will give your employee a false sense of pride in their work, and it can undermine their career growth, lower productivity standards, and prevent your employee from realizing their potential in the current position. Consider meeting with the employee assistance professional to examine this issue more fully. Discuss what contributes to your fear of grading the employee properly. Also discuss communication strategies likely to help you meet your goal to establish a more truthful supervisor-supervisee relationship that will benefit you, the employee, and the organization.
Q. My employee went to the EAP. She is a domestic abuse victim, and there are legal, financial, and child custody issues that she is dealing with. She is off work right now. I want her to take all the time she needs, but how long should I wait? What’s fair? What is the EAP’s role?
A. It is commendable that you are accommodating the employee’s needs, but you will need more details regarding the amount of time she anticipates being away from work. You and your manager, along with your HR advisor, must stay in close communication. Choose someone as lead communicator. Ask the employee what conditions are necessary for her to return to work. Then follow up. A break down in communication and a lack of being proactive to keep communication moving along are what cause situations like this to get more complicated. This also adds to management’s frustration. Timely communication and clear expectations will help your employee remain engaged, follow through, and complete numerous stressful tasks she likely must handle. Patience is important, but your organization’s mission is also important. If you ask the employee to sign are lease of information and speak to the EAP, you will feel more assured and less anxious about the employee’s status and return to work.
Q. What are the most important steps for supervisors and managers in helping prevent workplace bullying?
A. The single most important step for a supervisor to take in preventing workplace bullying is informing employees that the behavior won’t be tolerated. Even if your company has an anti-bullying policy, as about half of all companies do, personally stating your position will make a lasting impression. Be aware of the work climate, and do not hesitate to ask an employee you suspect of being victimized about whether they are being bullied in any way. Periodically educate employees about workplace bullying. Also, have a discussion about different types of bullying behavior, because some employees may be practicing bullying behaviors while being completely unaware of their seriousness. Your EAP or HR advisor can offer guidance on education and awareness. Hint: Searching for bullying prevention materials associated with specific professions may yield a more applicable list of workplace bullying behaviors. Consider a meaningful staff follow-on discussion about the content.
Q. I am a new supervisor. What are some important tips to follow, mistakes to avoid, and considerations to think about to help keep me on track to becoming an effective manager and leader?
A. Here are a collection of tips worth considering: Avoid assuming your position gives you the privilege to be pushy and demanding. Admit you need help as a new supervisor, and turn to experienced managers for it. Understand nearly everything you say and do is modeling and will be remembered. This includes what time you come in, how late you stay, how organized you are, how you dress ,the loyalty you demonstrate to your employer, admitting what you don’t know, and whether you practice work-life balance. Prepare to discover that being a supervisor is more challenging and demanding than you expect. As the boss, you have more control over your schedule, but do not abuse this privilege by doing personal business on company time--especially managing a side business--or taking longer lunch breaks than others do. Don’t be “invisible,” hide behind closed doors, or have your employees wondering where you are. Do not borrow equipment or supplies for personal use. Engage with your employees. Identify their strengths and yearnings, and then leverage this knowledge to achieve the goals of your work unit.
Q. On several occasions over the past year, I was told that my documentation was not good enough to support a disciplinary action. Needless to say, I am frustrated. What are the most important issues in documentation for supervisors?
A. Most supervisors have heard repeatedly that writing “the facts” and details--what, where, when, and who--are the critical parts of documentation. The parts to avoid, of course, are your opinions, analysis, and psychological appraisal of the worker. Less discussed, however, is timeliness of documentation, which refers to the lag time between the incident and when you write it. You may be busy, but as more time passes between an event and documentation, the less accurate that documentation will tend to be and the more likely it will contain judgments and overtones of your emotional response to the incident and the employee’s personality. The reason is that you will remember how you feel and emotionally respond to the worker or incident longer than you will remember the facts and details of what actually occurred.