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.




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.

Signs of Mental Health or Substance Abuse Issues

How prevalent are mental health and substance abuse issues in the workplace?

Let’s look at some staggering figures:

  • Behavioral health issues are the most costly medical condition in the country.1
  • Stress is the root cause of about 75% of doctor’s visits.2
  • Mental health is at the root of 12.5% of all emergency room visits.3
  • 5% of workers have abused alcohol or elicit drugs in the past year.4
  • 70% of the estimated 14.8 million Americans who use illegal drugs are employed.5

Why is it important to have a strong Employee Assistance Program (EAP)? The easy answer is “because it’s the right thing to do!” Assisting an employee in need is an important part of a manager’s job. When done right, an EAP can help get a valued employee back on track.

Sometimes employees don’t know about the EAP or are afraid to trust the confidentiality of the program. Managers can help direct someone to the EAP while putting his or her mind to rest. Managers who help someone get assistance often end up with a very loyal employee and a greater sense of purpose in their own lives.








Receiving a Harassment Complaint (Part 3)

In my last blog, I reviewed the impact that harassment can have on an individual and the organization. When an individual comes to make a complaint of harassment you will not have time to prepare. That’s why the pro-active steps outlined in “Harassment in the Workplace” Part #1 http://kgreer.com/blog/2016/05/harassment-in-the-workplace-part-1/) are so important.

If an employee comes to you to discuss a complaint of harassment, make time to talk to the employee immediately, explain the company’s harassment policy, take thorough notes of what the employee says, and get the complaint to human resources for an investigation. These are just some of the things that managers need to do. However, there are certain things that a manager should not do when an employee comes forward.1

  • Don’t put off the discussion. Make the time. The employee may not come back if you put it off.
  • Don’t promise the employee that the complaint will be kept confidential. That’s 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.
  • Don’t interrupt the employee. Let the employee share his or her perspective.
  • Don’t wait to write down what the employee says. Write it down while the employee is speaking but if that’s not possible, do it shortly thereafter.
  • Don’t speculate or embellish. Write down the words the employee used and the words you heard.
  • 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.
  • Don’t promise a particular end result. The company needs to investigate.
  • Don’t give advice to the employee.
  • Don’t forget to tell the employee to contact you or HR if the inappropriate behavior continues.
  • Other than human resources, 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 will be used against you if litigation is filed later.

You may have a hard 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 come to any conclusions until your investigation is complete.

As always, check with your HR department regarding their policies and practices.



1. Portions of this blog were extracted from an article by Deborah C. England (Nolo) and Barrie Gross | In: Women in Business





The Impact of Harassment in the Workplace (Part 2)

In my last blog we discussed a variety of topics that fall under the larger umbrella of a respectful workplace. In this blog we will highlight the impact of harassment on the individual and the organization. Need a refresher on what constitutes harassment?

Impact on the individual

  • Humiliation, embarrassment, and shame
  • Loss of dignity, confidence and self-esteem
  • Feelings of exclusion and isolation
  • Poor health, depression and anxiety
  • Anger and resentment
  • Damage to professional reputation and career
  • Lowered morale, concentration and productivity

Impact on the Organization

  • Productivity losses and decreased morale
  • Increased turnover and absenteeism
  • Negative publicity, including loss of customers/clients
  • Cost – if legal action is taken costs can skyrocket

Why Harassment is Hard to Report

A survey based on over 2,000 full and part-time female employees found that one in three women between the ages of 18-34 has been sexually harassed at work, but only 29% reported the issue while 71% did not. (Vagianos, 2015)

When a victim of harassment comes forward, he or she has spent anxious time weighing the risks of lodging a formal complaint. Some concerns may include:

  • “Things are bad now but will they be worse afterwards?”
  • “I’m too embarrassed by what happened to let anyone know about it.”
  • “What will it do to my career? Will my boss believe me? Will there be retaliation?”

What if the employee has chosen you as the person to talk to? The pressure is on.

My next blog will focus on the conversation with the employee who has come forward.

Harassment in the Workplace (Part 1)

Supervisors and managers have a higher level of accountability when it comes to creating a workplace that is free of harassment and discrimination. Despite your best efforts to create a respectful work environment, you may one day be faced with an employee complaint that he/she is experiencing harassment in the workplace. Being pro-active and knowing the role and responsibilities you have as a manager will help make a challenging situation less stressful.

What can you do now to be prepared?

  • Increase your knowledge around the importance, nuances and laws regarding diversity, inclusion, and harassment within the workplace.
  • Review your responsibility in contributing to a respectful workplace.
  • Become familiar with your organization’s policies on harassment and the reporting protocol to be followed when a complaint is brought forward.
  • Understand your organization’s expectations regarding your role and responsibilities as a manager.
  • Learn about your personal and professional liability.
  • Notice situations that may have the potential of escalating and talk with your HR professional to get advice and understand his or her role in the process.

What is harassment?

An employee who is feeling harassed will most likely describe the experience by referencing some of the terms highlighted below. These terms are important to be familiar with in addressing a complaint and in promoting professional behavior within your workgroup.

  • Diversity is the existence of many unique individuals in the workplace. This includes men and women from different countries, cultures, ethnic groups, generations, backgrounds, skills, abilities, and all the other unique differences that make each of us who we are.
  • Inclusion means a work environment where everyone has an opportunity to fully participate in creating business success and where each person is valued for his or her distinctive skills, experiences, and perspectives
  • Stereotypes are an exaggerated or oversimplified idea about a person or groups of people involving gender, race, national origin, or other factors. Even so-called positive stereotypes can be harmful due to their limiting nature.
  • Prejudice is an adverse judgment or opinion formed before facts are known; a bias without reason.
  • Discrimination is the treatment of people based on their belonging to a particular group.
  • Harassment is any unwanted conduct affecting the dignity of people in the workplace. It may be related to sex, sexual orientation, race, color, religious creed, national origin, ancestry, genetics, veteran’s status, disability, age religion, nationality, or any personal characteristic of the individual. Bullying, gossiping, inappropriate comments, or communications can embarrass, diminish, or destroy others. It may be recurring or an isolated incident.

In my next blog post I will focus on the impact of harassment in the work environment.