Guidance for Managers During Turbulent Times

Unfortunately, 2018 is beginning much like 2017 ended. We continue with a climate of political and international unrest, natural disasters and violent shootings. The complaints of workplace sexual harassment have risen to an all-time high. Is this the new normal or an anomaly? Managers have an opportunity to make a real difference in the lives of their employees.

Whatever 2018 brings, it’s a good opportunity to look around your workgroup to see how people are doing. Does anyone look particularly “down”? Are you aware of someone who’s been more affected by these disturbing times than others? Has someone in your group experienced personal tragedy or loss this year on top of the uncertainties in the world?

Although employees usually hope to escape their problems when they come to work, it is impossible to leave them totally behind. As a manager, taking a minute to really look at someone and ask how they are doing can make a big difference in that person’s life. Everyone has to find his or her own words, but saying something like this can be exceptionally meaningful for a struggling employee.

A few talking points:

  • “I know it’s been a difficult couple of months for you. I’m wondering how you are doing.”
  • “Is there anything I could do to help during this time?”
  • “Do you have people in your life who are supporting you?”

Depending on the responses, you might wonder whether the employee knows about the support services offered by the EAP.

  • “Are you aware that we have a confidential counseling program?”
  • “Could I get you some information about the Employee Assistance Program?”
  • “The EAP is free and confidential. I won’t even know whether you’ve used it or not.”
  • “It sounds like you have a lot on your plate and I’m wondering if the EAP could help you with any part of it?”

Managers are in a unique position to notice when someone is struggling. EAPs have been known to provide comfort and save lives, simply because a manager noticed an employee in trouble and encouraged them to access the EAP.

Despair can take many shapes and sizes. Is there anyone you are worried about today?

Complaints of Sexual Harassment

In early blog posts, I discussed how important it is for managers to be prepared for a sexual harassment complaint. In a second post, I talked about the negative impact that harassment can have on an individual. But never did I imagine the flood of complaints that would hit the media during late 2017.

Proactively, make sure you are aware of the protocol HR has put in place for reporting sexual harassment complaints. It’s important that you are familiar with your HR department’s policies and practices and the role and expectations of a manager should a complaint come directly to you.

If an employee comes to you to discuss a complaint of sexual harassment, make time to talk to the employee immediately. During that conversation, explain the company’s harassment policy, and also explain that you are NOT able to keep this information confidential and are required to notify HR or some other established entity that is part of the reporting process. Share the protocol with the employee and if possible and appropriate, immediately facilitate a connection to the correct resources. It’s important to extract yourself from the process and for the prescribed protocol to take over.

Things to remember:

The following are tips to assist you in the moments following an employee coming forward to you with a complaint. The HR process/protocol currently in place in your organization supersedes the following tips.

  • If an employee comes forth with a complaint, this becomes your top priority. Make the time and find a private place to talk with the employee.
  • Don’t promise the employee that the complaint will be kept confidential. Confidentiality is not possible because an investigation will have to be conducted. You can explain that the information will be shared only on a “need-to-know” basis.
  • Let the employee share his or her perspective without interruption and take notes..
  • In your conversation and in your notes, don’t speculate or embellish what you heard the employee say. Give your notes to HR as soon as possible.
  • Don’t ask judgmental questions. e.g. “Couldn’t you have just talked to your colleague instead of making a complaint?”
  • Don’t offer explanations or excuses for the conduct the employee is complaining about. You could be viewed as trivializing the complaint or questioning the employee’s honesty.
  • Always defer to HR or another designated entity if asked a question by the employee.
  • Other than HR, don’t talk to anyone else about the allegations. Do not tell the person who is being accused. You could undermine an investigation, and doing so could be used against you should litigation be filed later.

You may have a tough time believing that discrimination or harassment could be happening within your group. Keep an open mind and treat every person who comes forward with dignity and respect. Don’t make assumptions or come to any conclusions, let the company process play out.

As always, keep Human Resources informed and use your EAP for emotional support.

 

Why Managers Dread Giving Performance Feedback

Do you become anxious at the thought of giving performance feedback? If you are a manager and the answer is yes, you are in good company. Results of a recent Gallup poll of 2,000 managers found that 69 percent of managers have difficulty communicating in general, and 37 percent find it hard to give negative feedback to a subordinate. Why is it so hard?

Some of it has to do with personality style and history. If a manager is reserved or grew up in a family where communication was problematic, he/she may be more apt to struggle with difficult conversations. Work conversations can add another level of complexity to what may already be a challenging situation. Avoiding performance discussions may provide immediate relief, but makes it more difficult in the long run for both you and the employee.

Most employees want to have regular communication with their managers. They like knowing where they stand and getting feedback about their performance. No one likes to hear that they are disappointing others; however, employees would rather hear it now than find it out later.

How Managers Can Improve Communication:

  1. Start building a relationship by getting to know what motivates each person. Have a conversation with your direct reports and ask them their thoughts about receiving feedback. Share your philosophy about feedback and the positive aspect of it even when it’s intended to correct an aspect of performance.
  2. Set a regular time to check in with your direct reports and keep those appointments. Don’t save up constructive feedback because it may take on a life of its own. Create an agenda for frequent, short meetings and ask employees to come prepared with their discussion topics as well. These meetings are the foundation of effective communication.
  3. Learn how to blend positive and negative feedback so you are routinely giving some of each. Check in after a conversation has occurred to see what the employee heard and how he/she is feeling. Ask questions so that you can truly understand. Ask for feedback from your direct reports. Things like, what do they need more or less of from you. The key is to LISTEN.

It’s important to move forward with employee communication, even if it causes you discomfort. Studies have shown that employee engagement is higher when there is good communication within work groups. From an employee perspective, knowing where you stand with your manager reduces stress and makes work more enjoyable. Managers also find that when they improve communication with their employees, they also improve their own job satisfaction.

Do you need to set up a one-on-one today?

 

 

Do You Manage Flexible Work Options?

Many managers struggle with managing flexible work options like telecommuting, reduced work week, flexible work hours, working remotely, and temporary work. There are many aspects to consider even if your organization has a flexible culture and supporting policies.

It is the manager’s responsibility to know their organization’s policies about flexible work options and respond to requests accordingly. Managers are generally responsible for evaluating requests and monitoring the outcomes. When done well, flexible work arrangements can help to create a workplace of choice and support other critical employer best practices like employee engagement, hiring, and retention.

What are the benefits of flexible work arrangements?

Flexibility improves wellbeing and prevents burnout: Employees who have more control over their workdays can experience positive benefits to their mental well-being, including lowered stress, less burnout, and increased job satisfaction.

Increased Productivity: Employees are technology enabled at home and work and they have a good idea of how they can be most productive whether that means calling in for a meeting, finishing email in the evening or taking quiet time remotely to finish a project.

Engagement, hiring and retention: Flexibility can be a win-win for everyone, whether it is a temporary situation or one of a more permanent nature. Having a flexible work place recognizes diversity of needs and supports a family-friendly culture. It also acknowledges that everyone faces a crisis now and then…an elderly parent falls, a nanny quits, a family member becomes ill. People are at their best at work when they feel supported and acknowledged. These are critical components to embrace if you want to be an employer of choice.

What can managers do?

  1. Know the HR policies on flexible work options. Discuss the parameters with Human Resources.
  2. Familiarize yourself with how your EAP and Work Life program can help someone who has a child or eldercare issue. Sometimes people ask for time off before they even tried to solve the problem.
  3. Flex by example. Try not to overwork yourself. Try online meetings or working remotely and coach people on how to do this well.
  4. Talk to peers. Have conversations with other managers who may be more experienced with managing a flexible workforce.
  5. Have an open door. Unless you start relationships with your employees, you may not know what people need. People will open when they start to see you as someone who values diversity and is willing to work with others to find a good solution.
  6. Don’t make assumptions. Many people have invisible differences such as disabilities or family situations that are unknown to you. Offer each person an opportunity to talk and tell you what’s going on and what they need.
  7. Know that when people have personal demands such as eldercare or caregiving, there may be a stigma about asking for help. Try to recognize how hard this might be and thank the person for sharing it with you.
  8. Communication and setting performance expectations are key in making flexible work schedules successful for the employee and the company. If you have a 40 hour a week employee moving to 28 hours a week, you will need to consciously adjust deliverables, time lines, and perhaps scope of the role.

It’s up to each manager to balance the needs of the organization and the needs of employees. This is difficult work and can be very stressful. As a manager, in addition to working with your human resource professionals, you can also talk to one of our HR consultants in the EAP for brainstorming and support around these important issues.

4 Ways for Managers to Build Relationships

As a manager, developing relationships with your employees is key. One of the best ways to develop relationships is to make relationship building more conscious. This is easier said than done!

Why is it so challenging? First off, you might not be a natural relationship builder. You’re not sure about the boundaries in a manager and employee relationship. You feel uncomfortable and don’t know what to say. Whatever the reason, you can change by implementing some good communication strategies. Here are 4 techniques to practice:

  1. Be mindful about noticing people when you walk around the workplace. Notice how they seem to be doing. Say hello and if you say, “how are you,” mean it! Listen to his or her response and tone of voice. Does the employee make eye contact? Does his or her response fit with what you are seeing? How are you is an invitation to connect so be sure that you want to truly communicate.
  2. Ask follow-up questions. Follow-up questions indicate that you heard the response and want to hear more. If you are interested, follow-up with “what” or “how” questions. Now you are connecting!
  3. Ask for more information. If you want to get to the root cause of an issue, you must ask follow-up questions such as “How so?” or “Tell me more’” or “Why do you say that?” If it is a personal issue, it may lead to a constructive conversation about resources such as EAP that might be available to help. If you don’t probe, you might never get to the root cause of an issue. This is particularly important if a work issue is brewing and you have a chance to prevent a disaster.
  4. Resist the urge to talk. You may have lots to say about a particular subject but if you take up all the airtime and start giving your own examples, it won’t help to build the relationships. Use your best listening skills to ask more questions and really connect. Managers often have an answer for everything but demonstrating it now will only build up more of a barrier.

Remember that employees just want to be seen, heard and understood. Developing a trusting relationship is a natural offshoot of good communication. Using these techniques can help you to get better at a core managerial skill.

If you could benefit from support with improving this skill, call your EAP to get some coaching from a counselor. Relationship skills pay off, particularly if you apply them to both you work and personal life.

http://thehealthnut.club/are-you-really-listening-4-ways-to-understand-and-connect-with-people/

http://northernpublicradio.org/post/are-you-really-listening

 

Managing Presenteeism

How can you manage something that’s often difficult to see? Presenteeism is much more difficult to observe than absenteeism, yet is more costly to organizations. Presenteeism occurs when someone is on the job, but not fully functioning. This can be the result of distractions such as personal problems, pain, illness, anxiety, or depression. Most workers will continue to go to work, even when they aren’t up to par.

Debra Lerner, a researcher at Tufts Medical Center says “We’re talking about people who hang in there when they’re sick and try to figure out ways to carry on despite their symptoms.”

Anyone can have a bad day, but presenteeism is particularly problematic when related to chronic illnesses, including mental health issues. Depression is often the root cause of many counterproductive behaviors. It may be more prevalent during difficult economic times when people are afraid of losing their jobs and resist asking for help.

What is the role of the manager with presenteeism?

  • Know that on any given day, 20% of employees are probably not at the top of their game.
  • Notice how people are performing and give feedback. “I notice that you seem to be distracted today. Is there anything bothering you that I could help with?”
  • Offer your support and creativity. You might offer flex time to a person who needs to get to the doctor, or a private office and phone for someone preoccupied with an issue.

Regardless of the root cause, a referral to the Employee Assistance Program (EAP) may be helpful. “Have you thought about calling the EAP?” may be a non-threatening way to make a referral. A recent study by Chestnut Global Partners asked 13,400 EAP users to respond to the statement “My personal problems keep me from concentrating at work.” The results showed that presenteeism improved by 26.7% ninety days after EAP use. Studies like this are helping to make presenteeism less elusive and freeing up managers to address it.

 

 

How to Concentrate and Stay Focused

Many research studies have now shown that multitasking doesn’t work. It is virtually impossible to focus on two or more high-value activities without reducing your performance. You will be more successful in your work if you first identify high value projects and focus on those first. How?

First, make two lists; a project list and a task list. A project is bigger and includes multiple tasks. A task is a single thing that you can typically do in one session. Completing your most important projects will help realize your success over the year. Here are some steps:

  1. Make a project list and put an “A” next to projects of highest value. Those are the ones that will move you toward completing your larger goals.
  2. Pick your top “A” project and mark it an “A1.”
  3. Identify the tasks required to complete your “A1” You will know where to begin when you prioritize the tasks for your “A1” project.
  4. Check over your task list for any urgent issues that might come back to haunt you if you don’t do them now. This will prevent unnecessary crises. Don’t let this derail you from your high-value project.
  5. Before starting your work, pick a time frame to devote to completing the necessary tasks. For example, will you work on the project for 2 hours or all day?
  6. If you are a manager, you may have someone you want to develop. Consider whether one or more of these projects could be delegated. Try to avoid the excuse, “I can do it faster myself.”

Minimize distractions by putting yourself in the right environment, free of interruptions. Having a clean work surface may help you focus. Now you’re ready to practice mindfulness and concentrate on the project at hand. Observe yourself as distractions attempt to take you away.

In spite of best intentions we can sometimes be our worst interrupters. Notice your concentration and whether you are drifting away and thinking about something else. When that happens, gently bring yourself back, without judgment, to the job at hand. Don’t fragment your attention!

What’s your “A1” today?

Getting to Know Your Team, Part II

What if you want to get to know your team but you don’t know how to get started or what to say? Research shows that managers who hold regular team or 1-1 meetings with their employees are almost three times more likely to foster engaged employees than managers who don’t. (Harvard Business Review and Gallup)

Here are five topics you can discuss with your employees:

  1. Work environment: Begin where your communication memo left off. Ask, “How it’s going? What’s working, what could be improved and how can we improve it?” Don’t set false expectations of what you can and cannot do. Be sure to find roles that employees can also play to improve the work experience. Remember, an important part of employee engagement includes opportunities for individuals to contribute to the success of the workgroup.
  2. Communication: Discuss each person’s communication preferences, such as email or face-to-face, written updates or regular meetings. Share your preferred style and see where compromise can be made.
  3. The team: Ask what is working well within the team and what could be better. Listen to suggestions for improvement. If an issue arises involving another colleague, consider coaching one or both employees. Asking about the team dynamics may be the only way you will become aware of an issue.
  4. Workplace flexibility: Explore flexible work options with employees. You may have an employee who would function better working at home one day a week or alternating start and stop times. Be mindful about the feasibility of altering a schedule without negatively impacting the work of other colleagues on the team.
  5. Work skills: Openly ask questions about individuals’ skills that aren’t required in their current roles. Experience gained in prior positions may prove to be a valuable asset for future career opportunities. Spend time assessing the breadth, depth and versatility of individuals. They will appreciate it.

Get to know the skills, capabilities and interests of each employee. The more you can tap into their full potential the more you will enhance their engagement and performance – and that of the team.

If you are having difficulty with any aspect of people management, the EAP may be a great resource for you. An EAP counselor might prove to be just the right sounding board for you.

Getting to Know Your Team

How well do you know your team? When was the last time you held 1-1 conversations with your team members? This can be challenging in very busy work environments especially if you have people working remotely or one several different shifts.

In spite of these challenges, it’s worth the effort. According to an article in the Harvard Business Review along with research provided by Gallup, communication is often the basis of any healthy relationship, including the one between an employee and his or her manager. Gallup has found that consistent communication – whether it occurs in person, over the phone, or electronically – is connected to higher level of employee engagement. Managers who hold regular team or 1-1 meetings with their employees are almost three times more likely to have engaged employees than managers who don’t.

If having a meeting to “chat” with your employees is a new approach for you, I suggest that you communicate to them in advance saying you’ll be scheduling time with everyone for a check-in. This will help allay any fears. Let them know it’s an informal meeting for you to get a better sense of how people are doing and what challenges they are facing. This type of communication may not eliminate employees speculating about the reason for the meeting but setting the context is a step in the right direction.

Not sure what to talk about or how to start the conversation?  Check out our next blog post for more specific suggestions about how to talk to your team.

EAP: A Valuable Tool for Managers

When mental health and substance abuse issues are present in the workplace, managers deserve a strong Employee Assistance Program (EAP) to help with these challenges. Managers are faced with difficult “people issues” every day. Managers have the privilege and responsibility to offer a helping hand and guidance to employees who are struggling.

What managers can do:

  • Observe and document employee performance, both the good and bad.
  • Notice changes in performance, appearance, attitude and behavior.
  • Give regular feedback about your observations.
  • Follow-up on a regular basis until the employee is back on track.

How to approach someone:

  • Emphasize the value you see in your employee’s work.
  • Share your observations about how the employee’s behavior has changed.
  • Give the employee time to process what you are saying and provide a perspective about what has happened.
  • Use phrases like “tell me more about…” or “how so?” to try and gain understanding.
  • Refer the employee to the EAP and don’t forget to mention that the services are free and confidential.

Remember that the EAP is a helpful resource for almost any everyday issue or life changing event. EAP counselors can help you, as a manager, prepare for a conversation with an employee.