Avoiding Holiday Trouble

Have you ever been tempted to let your hair down at a company holiday party?  Don’t do it!  As a manager, you have two responsibilities at holiday celebrations; to keep yourself out of trouble and to help others avoid inappropriate behavior.

For managers:

– It’s a good idea to add “holiday party expectations” to a group meeting agenda or hold a brief meeting on the topic.  During the meeting, you can review your organization’s policies about drinking, drug use and appropriate conduct.

– Remind your employees that a work party is different from a typical social event and caution them about their behavior.  Mention the possible ramifications of becoming intoxicated at a work-related event.

– Remind employees that one of the effects of consuming alcohol is that it generally lowers inhibitions.  For that reason, you suggest that people stay well within their own limits.

– Mention that one of the dangers of  “loosening up” too much at a workplace event is that inappropriate behavior could be construed as bullying or sexual harassment.

A few suggestions for those planning the event:

– If you are organizing the celebration, be mindful that there are religious and cultural differences to consider when planning a party.

– Make sure that there are plenty of non-alcoholic drinks available.

– Develop a plan for getting someone home safely who shouldn’t be driving.

‘Tis the season and all that, but no one wants their career or reputation damaged by a faux pas.  As managers, you can help others avoid costly mistakes by simply offering a few words of wisdom.  And by all means, follow this advice yourself!



8 Tips for Dealing with a Sudden Employee Absence

I recently had an unexpected illness in the family take me completely by surprise.  I couldn’t get to work or work at home for several weeks.  It made me think about how difficult it is for managers when an employee is suddenly out.  What to say?  What to ask? What to tell others? And, what to do about work that is pending?

Here are some tips for managers when faced with a sudden employee absence due to family illness.

1. Show empathy.  Start out by saying “I’m sorry that you’re going through this.”  Depending on the reaction, you might add “I’d like to hear more about what’s going on but I also want to respect your privacy.”

2. Offer to help.  Ask “What can I do to help?”  This is a wonderful gesture if you are willing to help, but might also lead into a work discussion.

3. Practice Active Listening.  Offer to help with work projects over the next few weeks so the employee can concentrate on their loved one.  Involve the employee in planning how their work will be handled.

4. Keep issues confidential.  Ask the employee to what extent he or she wants information shared with others.

5. If employees in the group have expressed an interest in helping, let the employee know and ask for preferences at that time.

6. Be prepared to discuss leave policies as the situation unfolds.  Notify Human Resources of the situation as soon as it appears that FMLA might be requested.

7. Remind the employee that the EAP is available to help.  Offer to call ahead to the EAP to pave the way for the employee.  Mention that the EAP has counselors that can research resources for the future care of his or her loved one.

8. Discuss how often the employee will be in contact with you and set up a follow-up phone call or email for a few days out.

Keeping an open dialog can help you to support an employee going through a difficult time, and help you to avoid potential issues with work.  If you are unsure about what to say or do, contact HR and/or call the EAP for your own support.

Giving Positive and Negative Feedback

Performance review time shouldn’t be the only time in the year that you are giving feedback to your employees.  In fact, if you are giving it on a regular basis, it will make review time easier, as well as help to bring out the best in each employee.   It is important to give both positive and constructive feedback to your team.

Positive feedback?  Try to get in the habit every couple of weeks to find one positive comment to make to each person in your group.  Doing this will also help you to stay more focused on what people are working on, and what behaviors you would like to encourage.  It’s okay if they are small things.

“I noticed in the meeting that you were well prepared to address everyone’s concerns.”

“Thank you for sending me the project update yesterday.  I used it today when I met with my boss.”

Constructive feedback?  This type of feedback works best when you can give it within 24 hours.  Delivering it quickly will also reduce your stress level and provide a direct link to the behavior that was troubling.  Commenting on small issues will work well if you are regularly practicing positive feedback as well.

“When people raised their concerns in the meeting, you didn’t seem well prepared to deal with them.  If I can help with anticipating questions, let’s make sure we talk about it during our 1:1.”

“I have lost track of your project because you aren’t keeping up with regular updates.  Please make sure I have those every Monday.”

When giving negative feedback, try to say something positive as well.  If you are having a tough time finding anything positive to say, it may be time for corrective action.

If you have difficulty delivering either positive or negative feedback, you might benefit from a 1:1 conversation with a coach or an EAP Consultant.

Do you have any feedback today?


Approaching Someone About a Work Performance Issue

Do you ever avoid confrontations when you are disappointed with an employee’s performance?  When you approach an employee about his or her behavior, it’s important to do it in a non-threatening manner. This can be challenging because you may be frustrated with declining job performance. Whatever the case, it is helpful to prepare for difficult conversations and practice your opening words.

If you are documenting performance, it is advisable to keep your HR Business Partner in the loop. If your own feelings are getting in the way, your EAP can help you talk through your own feelings and help you prepare.

List the issues as you see them.

This list should contain specific incidents, behavior, or observations, not generalizations or conclusions.  Before you meet, identify what you want to accomplish with the employee.

Prepare for responses.

Try to anticipate all possible responses. (Be prepared to deal with denial.) Consider, for example, how you will respond if the employee refuses to cooperate or tells you that everything will work itself out in time.

Say your opening words.

Be direct and give specifics.

“There’s something important that we need to talk about.”

“I haven’t been happy with your follow-through on projects lately.”

Try not to analyze the cause.

Remember that your goal is not to analyze the root of the problem, but to recognize that it exists and determine what further action should be taken. Tell the person your concerns. Emphasize that you want to help. List the things that you have observed, and tell how these incidents affected you and your work. State how you feel as a result of these things. Then tell the person that you need help resolving the problem and that you have to come up with a plan to prevent these things from continuing.

Come up with a plan.

Be specific about what you want and encourage the employee to offer suggestions.

Plan a follow-up meeting within one to two weeks.

This important step can afford the employee an opportunity to inform you of any progress in meeting established goals, and to be certain that both parties agree that positive action is happening.  If there is no progress, consider modifying the plan and/or progressing with further discipline.

When problems fester, they generally get worse.  Are you ignoring a situation in your work group?

10 Tips for Managing Effective Meetings

Meeting management and facilitation skills come in very handy when you are responsible for the results. Whether you are focusing on your department meeting or a special task force, the dynamics and complexities involved are often overlooked. Well planned and facilitated meetings keep participants engaged in the process and focused on the goals and deliverables required for success.

Here are 10 suggestions for effective meetings:

1. Identify in advance the purpose and expected outcome of the meeting.

2. Develop an agenda with time frames and accountabilities spelled out.

3. Share the agenda with the group prior to the meeting.

4. Start the meeting by reviewing the purpose of the meeting and minutes from the previous meeting.

5. Agree on time frames, ground rules, and who will be taking minutes.

6. Be assertive in order to keep the group focused and on task.

7. Suggest a follow up conversation if an item cannot be resolved during the meeting.

8. Address conflicts in the meeting if they surface.

9. Document next steps and action items that were identified before adjourning.

10. Distribute minutes as soon as possible after the meeting.

Nothing is more frustrating than a poorly facilitated meeting.  As a leader, good meeting management will be noticed and appreciated.

What changes do you need to make for more effective meetings?

Is Email Robbing You of Productivity?

Time Management practices have changed, mostly because of changes in technology.  Email, as a daily tool, has become both a blessing and a curse to most managers.

On the good side, email has made it easy to share complex documents in a paperless format.  It allows users to get quick responses to questions, and gives managers an efficient way to delegate assignments.  Unfortunately, there is also a cost.

Many managers get more than 100 emails per day.  Buried in the mix of email messages are a number of items that are time sensitive, such as meeting invites, employee relations issues, and impending business crises.  Ignoring email isn’t an option.

Consider having someone review your email during the day to watch for those few hot items.  A willing colleague can delete junk mail, get you off of mailing lists, delegate certain types of items, red flag critical emails, file messages, and locate you when a crisis is brewing.

If you can’t find a willing suspect, or if your email is just too confidential to be reviewed, you have no choice but to develop new email management habits.  There’s no faster way to lose credibility than finding yourself out of the loop because you just couldn’t keep up.

Here are a few tips for managers who want to flourish amidst the flood of email during the average day.

1. Take an honest look at who is clogging your email box.  Discuss the issue with those individuals and make a plan for communicating some other way.  You don’t have time for “conversations” over email, so make time for a phone call or standing meeting.

2. Limit how many times you check email during the day.  Over checking email is now a common addiction, so be honest with yourself about what frequency is really necessary.

3. When you do check mail, scan the new messages for crisis potential and handle those first.  Always scan with an eye for what is urgent and important.

4. Avoid using your inbox as a to-do list. Transfer action items to a written list so you can delete the email right away.  Put an “A”next to items that you must do before the end of the day, “B” for important but not urgent. Delete low value messages quickly.

5. Set aside 15 minutes at the end of the day to delete and file email messages.  Don’t leave them all in your inbox!  Set a goal to have 20 or less in your inbox before you leave for the day.  You will find things much quicker if they are in files.

6. Take the extra few minute to opt out of email lists.  This will have a long-term benefits.

Once you start  to turn the tide on your email flow, talk to your work group about how they can do the same.  You’ll be amazed at how the groups’ productivity will improve!

Be honest. How many times will you check your email today?

Five Reasons Life is So Stressful These Days

Good Grief!  Why are we hearing so much about stress?

Managers are in a tough position when it comes to stress.  You have a job to do and you need to do it with the help of other people.  But why is everyone so stressed and what do you do to help others get the job done?

First, there are major trends that indicate that being overwhelmed by stress is the new normal.  What’s happened?

1. Employees are still recovering from a terrible recession and many people are living paycheck to paycheck.  Juggling bills creates worry and financial strain.

2. The technology boom has taken away much of our downtime.  What happened to the days when we would get recharged outdoors or just sit quietly?

3. Technology has also blurred the lines between work and home, adding to work life balance issues.  Most of us have to be very disciplined to find any time where we are “unplugged.”

4. There are more two income families than ever before in history and that leads to work life balance issues.

5. Parents are under terrible pressure.  Children are involved in more school and sports-related activities than in the last generation and this puts excess pressure on parents.

So, what can managers do?  First things first.  The most important thing is to look at your own situation and take care of yourself.  You really can’t be helpful to employees if you are over committed or highly stressed.  Employees can observe how you are handling stress and whether you are taking care of yourself.  Think about what you need to feel healthier and you will set the stage for others to follow.

Once your stress level is down, you are in a better position to help others.  As always, refer anyone about whom you have concerns to the EAP.

What’s stressful in your life?  Talking to someone usually helps.

The Manager’s Role in the Aftermath of Tragedy

The EAP has been busy over the last few weeks as many employees and family members come to terms with what happened in Boston over the past few weeks.  Most employees are back to work, but many are still reeling with their exposure to the trauma of the Marathon bombings and the aftermath of the lock down.

We often see “normal” symptoms after “abnormal” events.  These might include:

–       staying in close touch with family and friends

–       obsessing about the event

–       feeling anxious or wanting to stay home

–       being overly emotional including sadness or anger

What can managers do to help employees adjust after such a terrible event?

1. Be observant and present.

Get out of your office and walk around to check in with people.  How are they doing? How is their family doing?  Are they worried about anyone in the work group?

2. Listen.

Ask open-ended questions and practice good listening skills.  This can be frustrating if you’re under pressure, but it will pay off in the long run.  You don’t have to come up with solutions, but allowing employees to talk about their experience can help.

3. Pay attention to parents.

Parents who had children at the Marathon, or know someone who was injured, are particularly concerned about the impact on their children.  It is normal that they are more concerned than usual.  Parenting specialists are always standing by in the EAP.

4. When to be concerned.

One rule of thumb that we use for adults and children is to consider the duration and intensity of the reaction.  For a few weeks following an unusually upsetting event, reactions may be intense.  But with time, intensity usually lessens.  If you are concerned that someone is not recovering from this traumatic event, call your EAP to discuss the situation, or suggest to the employee that the EAP might be able to help.

Are you worried about someone today?

After the Marathon Bombings

A Patriot’s Day Like No Other

Patriot’s Day is traditionally one of the best days of the year in Boston.  The history, the Red Sox, the Marathon – so much to be excited about.  Many of us had the day off, and for those in the office we may have anticipated a quiet day.  But, this Patriot’s Day was anything but quiet.   As the horror unfolded, we each began to experience our own individual reactions to abnormal events.  What were yours?

As a manager, you were most likely unprepared for this situation.  In management 101, there’s little mention of terrorist attacks, how to comfort people, and what advice might be handy.  Fortunately, you have your HR team and your EAP standing by.  However, they can’t really help when you are face-to-face with an employee, in tears, or witnessing an unusually harsh response from someone who is usually cool and collected.

What you CAN do:

1. Let people express emotion, without feeling that you have to fix it.  Acknowledge what you are observing, and ask if there’s any way you can help.

2. Be more visible than usual and notice how people are behaving.  Employees need to see you, or at least hear from you if they are remote.  In situations like this, hearing a friendly voice is so much better than an email.

3. If an employee wants to talk, listen without judgment.  If it feels to you as if the person is in need of more support than you can offer as a manager, ensure that the person is aware of the EAP phone number.

4. If you feel that you want to offer more concrete advice, it is always safe to make suggestions about self-care.  Encourage employees to take care of themselves, instead of putting pressure on themselves to be okay.

4. Give people time to recover from the trauma on their own.  Most people will use their resiliency skills to make a comeback, without the need of professional help.

One of the most important management tools is to take care of yourself first, similar to what we are told on airplanes when we are accompanied by small children.  You can’t be very helpful to others if you aren’t taking extra good care of yourself.


Engaging Older Employees at Work

There is an increasing percentage of “Baby Boomer” (born 1946-1964) in the workforce because of the recession in 2009.  Some of the Boomers who had planned to retire around that time delayed their plans because of their shrinking financial resources.  There are pluses and minuses in this trend.

On the plus side,  Boomers have a lot of experience and, therefore, a lot to offer to others.  This intellectual capital can help make or break an organization’s success.  Boomers are generally hard working, loyal, and enjoy exceeding their goals.  They have the emotional intelligence to provide some stability to a work group, and enjoy face time with their colleagues.  Unlike the  “Gen X” workers, they don’t have the demands of parenting young children.

On the minus side, Boomers want to share their knowledge and may need coaching on how to have it well received by a younger worker.  They may have trouble keeping up with technology and need extra help learning a new skill.  Boomers may also want to keep working, but at a reduced schedule.  These partial retirement options will become more popular over time and can be a challenge to manage.  Some aging boomers may also have more medical issues and possible cognitive impairment over time.

There is a risk in over generalizing about different generations, so treating everyone on your staff as an individual is always the best way to avoid this.  Find out what motivates each person so that you can engage him or her to the fullest.  Consider some EAP workshops on generational differences.

Remember, everyone wants to be respected, heard, and understood.