Q. I don’t want to ignore my gut if I think an employee is struggling with a serious personal problem. I know I can’t probe, diagnose, or cross boundaries, but what compromise can be made so I don’t ignore signals of what might be a significant unaddressed need?
A. Supervisors may naturally come to know their employees quite well as they discover their work goals, ambitions, personality styles, and whatever personal information they choose to share about their lives. It follows that the same supervisors will notice when things are not quite right. It is then appropriate to ask—and supervisors should ask—how employees are doing. These meaningful conversations with supervisors may lead to employees getting help for personal problems. Seeing an employee at his or her desk all day, not interacting with others, should concern you if it is uncharacteristic. Showing concern could lead to the discovery of a serious matter and referral to the EAP. Domestic abuse issues are sometimes spotted this way.
Q. I think most companies suffer with gossip and backbiting in the workplace, and few are completely successful at eliminating this problem. I am certain it erodes morale. What can supervisors do to effect change in this area?
A. Organizational psychologist Glenn D. Rolfsen, Ph.D., discovered through working with over 200 companies that gossip and backbiting are indeed stubborn problems. And he documented that eliminating these problems will increase productivity, reduce absenteeism, and improve morale. The tactic he discovered, after failing in other attempts, was to change behavior associated with gossip, which helped employees acquire new habits of personal awareness to change the behavior. Beyond being personally aware, he calls this “new consciousness.” He did three things that produced the result he wanted. One was to educate employees about gossip’s toxic effects, and two was to get everyone to sign a commitment to eliminating it. Third, and perhaps the most important, he discovered a way to keep that goal in front of everyone effectively to achieve “top of mind awareness.” It worked. See his TEDx presentation on this achievement and consider what may fit with your situation. Ask the EAP to team with you on projects to improve morale and develop a positive workplace. Source: YouTube.com (search for “Glenn D. Rolfsen, TEDxOslo”) .
Q. My employee thinks he is being followed by “foreign agents.” He brought a video to work to prove it, but no one could see anything unusual in it. Some employees are scared he could be violent. He’s been a great worker, with five years of service. What is this? What should I do?
A. What underlies the behavior with your employee can’t be determined without an evaluation, but one possibility is a mental disorder that causes delusions (beliefs that are not true). Consult with your HR advisor regarding whether a fitness for duty evaluation is appropriate. Referral for a fitness for duty would be based on behavior and its effect on the work situation. You will need clear documentation linked to job performance, effect on coworkers, and/or disruption of the work environment. Note that some medical-behavioral illnesses such as schizophrenia typical emerge in young adulthood, which would explain why there were few or no symptoms five years ago. HR may wish to coordinate with the EAP, so both should be consulted. EAPs are familiar with resources to support the needs of your employee. Unusual behavior caused by unmanaged schizophrenia can be upsetting to observers, but violence is rare. Still, the chronic nature of many illnesses means it is prudent to avoid delay.
Q. We had an employee experience a major heart attack. It was dramatic and frightening, but the hard part for me was the next day. As the boss, I was unsure what action to take other than responding like everyone else to the shock and processing it. What should a manager do?
A. When tragedies like the one you describe strike the workplace, the immediate response is usually obvious—engaging first responders and immediate needs. Days later, supervisors wonder, “What’s my role in helping everyone? What do I say? How do I act?” You will make a huge impact on employees with the simplest things: being more available, being empathetic, engaging the EAP, modeling your own need to process and share feelings, being a good communicator, making it easier for others to spend time discussing or processing their reactions, finding ways to lighten the load, and being flexible with work demands. You will be surprised how employees will thank you later. You may think to yourself, “Wow, I didn’t do much.” But in fact, you really did all that was needed. Supervisors represent the organization, and tragic events are always remembered in terms of how “the organization responded.” That’s you.
Q. I’ve read that the biggest complaint employees have about supervisors is lack of communication—that supervisors are inconsistent with rules or don’t praise workers enough. So, let’s hear what most bosses are doing right, or at least what is complained about the least.
A. In one study of over 2,000 employees surveyed about complaints regarding their boss, one of the least-mentioned complaints was sexism. It appeared as No. 49 on the list, just above “bores people with vacation photos.” So, on this front, sexism in the workplace on the part of supervisors appears to be less frequent than many people may believe, or perhaps awareness in the media has had a major impact in reducing it. On the other hand, one signficant and common complaint that appeared to be overlooked by the survey was “being called by my supervisor when not at work.” This complaint appeared in many variations: being called on vacation, on weekends, after hours, etc. See the full list at https://spana.org/blog/bossing-it/.
FrontLine Supervisor is for general informational purposes only and is not intended to be specific guidance for any particular supervisor or human resource management concern. URLs are case-sensitive. For specific guidance on handling individual employee problems, consult with your EA professional. © 2019 DFA Publishing & Consulting, LLC